“Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.”
These famous words were spoken by Gary Lineker, and they still ring true to this day. Now expertly coached by Joachim Löw and full of champion players, the Germans entered the World Cup among the favourites. Sure, there were slight questions about their form heading in to their tournament opener against Mexico, but if the first game of the tournament isn’t dedicated to blowing away a few cobwebs then what’s the point of it? They’re Germany, after all.
The signs of German fragility were there from the start, but, surely, they’d be right. The Mexicans started the game with a fast attack that gave Hirving Lozano space to take a shot, and although Jérôme Boateng threw himself in front of Lozano’s effort the danger was apparent. The sides had played less than a minute. From the resultant corner, Marvin Plattenhardt let the ball hit him and roll into a very dangerous area. Manuel Neuer, in his first competitive game since September, threw himself on top of the ball, but the nerves were there. The ball was turned over in their defensive half, and Mexico were looking increasingly dangerous on the break. They were playing well, but the Germans were just working into it. Nothing to see here. They’re Germany, after all.
The Germans were still a threat in attack. Timo Werner’s early shot trailed across the face of goal, and Carlos Salcedo was nearly forced into turning the ball into his own net. Right-back Joshua Kimmich was a constant threat on the right flank. He may have been caught out a few times by the scintillating combination of Carlos Vela, Javier Hernández and the dangerous Lozano, but Germany were still holding up. Would Germany’s defence crack? Surely not before Mexico’s. They’re Germany, after all.Embed from Getty Images
Hirving Lozano celebrates after scoring the only goal of the game. Lozano showed all of his class and power in finishing the chance after a well-executed breakaway.
Then Germany’s defence cracked. Mats Hummels was out of position, and Hernández had time and space to find Lozano on the left side of the area. One touch beat Mesut Özil, who had worked desperately to get back and help out, and another set him up for the shot. As for the finish, it was lashed into the bottom corner, barely managing to elude Neuer’s desperate dive. But surely it wasn’t time to panic just yet. An early goal was just the motivation Germany needed to start playing their best football. It’d turn around. They’re Germany, after all.
The goal seemed to be the incentive to greater heights the Germans needed. They began to play with renewed vigour, putting the Mexicans on the back foot and forcing Guillermo Ochoa to make an incredible save to tap Toni Kroos’ near-perfect free-kick into the bar. Mexico held their lead for the rest of the first half, but it couldn’t last against Kroos, Müller, Werner, Draxler, Özil and Kimmich. They’re Germany, after all.
The Germans began to dominate proceedings as the second half commenced. Mexico weren’t counter-attacking or pressing like they had been in the first half, and they were sitting ducks against a constant wave of German attack after German attack. There was no one chance that could be pinpointed. Instead, every moment seemed to contain a chance for the Germans to grab the equaliser. Mexico were holding out well, but the Germans would soon get the leveller. They’re Germany, after all.Embed from Getty Images
Joshua Kimmich runs with the ball during the match. Kimmich provided Germany with an attacking threat from right-back, but Mexico also managed to exploit his aggressive positioning.
Löw tried to turn things around. He gutted his midfield, then his defence, to reinforce his attack. Against Germany’s back two of Boateng and Hummels, Miguel Layún threatened with a couple of raids on the break. At the other end, the chances were piling up. Kimmich’s overhead kick was just wide. Ochoa made save after save. Mario Gómez had a brilliant headed chance, but somehow lifted it over the bar. After a pinball style sequence within the German penalty area, Julian Brandt unleashed a murderous looking strike on the edge of the box, but it cleaved the air just wide of the left goalpost. An equaliser just had to come. They are Germany, right?
And yet, Germany or not, Mexico continued to keep them at bay. Thomas Müller and Hummels gave away unnecessary yellow cards in frustration. Neuer was moved forward in the desperate final moments, and still the Mexicans refused to budge. The final whistle followed shortly afterwards, signalling the end of the match and confirming Mexico’s monumental triumph against the odds. Mexican fans rejoiced in a brilliant victory that will shape the rest of this competition, and the players rushed onto the field to celebrate a confidence-boosting win. For once, the aura of invincibility that has cloaked Germany’s recent performances was shattered. For once, the Germans didn’t win.
Moscow – Luzhniki Stadium
Mexico 1 (Lozano 35)
Referee: Alireza Faghani (Irn)
Germany (4-2-3-1): Neuer – Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels, Plattenhardt (Gómez 79); Khedira (Reus 60), Kroos; Müller, Özil, Draxler; Werner (Brandt 86).
Mexico (4-2-3-1): Ochoa – Salcedo, Ayala, Moreno, Gallardo; Herrera, Guardado (Márquez 73); Layún, Vela (Álvarez 58), Lozano (Jiménez 66); Hernández.
Javier Hernández (right) and Carlos Vela chase after the ball during Mexico’s upset win. Hernández and Vela played a key role in breaking down Germany’s defence.
1. Javier Hernández (Mexico)
Hernández was in excellent form throughout, providing the assist for Mexico’s goal and keeping up his dangerous runs on the break for the entirety of the match. The open spaces provided to him by Germany’s attacking full-backs allowed him to wreak havoc, and his combination with Vela, Lozano and Layún formed a mobile attack that repeatedly picked the German defence apart.
2. Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
Mexico’s dynamic attack gave them the lead, but without Ochoa there to deny the Germans it wouldn’t have counted for much. His save to deny Kroos’ brilliant free-kick was top class, and was one of many excellent stops he made on the day. He showed all of his experience in denying the reigning champions, and will take plenty of confidence from his efforts.
3. Toni Kroos (Germany)
Kroos allowed the Germans to control the game with his work in the middle of the park, dictating all of their attacks and often directing traffic to players in dangerous positions. He had Germany’s best chance of the match with his almost flawless free-kick, and his ability to pick out incisive passes made him one of the most dangerous players on the pitch.
4. Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
Lozano scored the only goal of the match, and he exploited the void left by Kimmich’s high positioning to devastating effect. He showed a brilliant first touch and an incredible control over the ball when it fell at his feet, and his finish to pick up the Mexican goal was classy and powerful at the same time. If he keeps this form up he will be a force at this tournament.
5. Carlos Vela (Mexico)
Vela may have been subbed off just before the hour but he was still able to leave an indelible mark on the game. His pace through the middle was a key factor in Mexico’s early counter-attacking success, and he picked out some brilliant passes playing in behind Hernández. His pace and skill created massive problems for the German defence.