MOSCOW — Hirving Lozano’s first-half goal and sturdy second-half defense gave Mexico a 1-0 victory over Germany on Sunday, providing the first major surprise of the 2018 World Cup. It was hard to recall a bigger result for Mexico, which has hosted the World Cup twice but has never advanced past the quarterfinals.
Germany, the defending World Cup champion, has won the tournament four times, and was expected to seriously challenge for a fifth crown in Russia. But the Germans seemed flummoxed by the Mexicans’ speed and directness in the first half, and they couldn’t find a reply to Lozano’s goal.
The largely pro-Mexican crowd willed their team to victory in the final 20 minutes, when they gave up the initiative but never surrendered. Mexico even recorded a World Cup milestone in the second half: the veteran defender Rafael Márquez came on as a substitute in the 74th minute, becoming only the third player to appear in five World Cups.
Germany seemed out of sorts for most of the game, put off by Mexico’s initiative, its willingness to attack in numbers and, perhaps most important, by its speed. Mexico Coach Juan Carlos Osorio said that had been his team’s attack plan for six months: to exploit the speed of Lozano on the wing in partnership with players like Miguel Layún and Javier Hernández.
Let’s relive that Lozano goal again.. what a counter attack and a stellar finish. #GERMEX
— Soccer Laduma (@Soccer_Laduma) June 17, 2018
How big was the goal in Mexico? The Mexican government said it reported a small artificial earthquake in Mexico City in the moments after Lozano’s shot his the back of the German net “possibly due to mass jumping.”
“Due to injuries we had to change some of it, but the plan was always two quick players on the wings: Hirving, our fastest, and an offensive midfielder like Layún,” Osorio said. “The first half, we managed to defend intelligently and hurt them on the counter. We could have hurt them much earlier.”
Osorio had a far more subdued reaction.
“We scored and I just sat down and thought about the plan,” he said, “which was in the next five minutes, not to allow a goal.”
The win must have felt especially sweet for Osorio, who is the subject of endless criticism and second-guessing in Mexico. But, despite a victory over the defending World Cup champions, he chose not to gloat. Instead, he deflected the praise onto other, even name-checking the team’s mental coach, who was hired several years ago to help the players overcome both their countryman’s high expectations and the national team’s history of failure at the World Cup.
“We want to dedicate this great result to all the Mexican fans who have traveled here, the people behind the scenes who have helped in our work, and the people who have supported us,” Osorio said. “We will try to bring them joy.”
Germany will have work to do now to advance from the group stage, with games against Sweden and South Korea to come. Told that several recent World Cup champions had exited in the group stage in the next cycle — including Spain (2014), Italy (2010) and France (2002) — Germany’s coach, Joachim Löw, struck a defiant tone.
“We will not suffer that fate,” he said. “We will make it to the next round.”
But in losing on Sunday, Germany has given up the steering wheel in the group to Mexico, which arrived in Russia with its most talented, most experienced, most highly regarded team in years. It surely now feels anything must be possible.
“I told them to play for the love of winning,” he said, “and not the fear of losing.”
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Here’s how Mexico pulled off the upset of Germany:
Lozano’s goal was the product of one such burst in the 35th minute. Led wide, and forward, by a pass from striker Hernández, Lozano turned Germany’s Mesut Özil inside out as he cut into the penalty area and pulled a right-footed shot inside goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s right post.