MOSCOW — Close your eyes, and you would have sworn you had stepped into Estadio Azteca, that madhouse in Mexico City.
“Cielito Lindo,” punctuated by the familiar “ay-ay-ay-ay” singalong, graced the sound system during World Cup pregame frolicking here Sunday.
There was also the unscripted noise, that incredible boom that rattles the brain, created by tens of thousands of Mexican soccer supporters, many from homes in the United States, who have journeyed extraordinary distances to watch perhaps the country’s most capable team.
Open your eyes, and you would have seen section after section glazed in green, up and down Luzhniki Stadium, easily outnumbering those backing the opposition, reigning champion Germany.
And when Hirving “Chucky” Lozano shattered the first-half deadlock — the only breakthrough needed during a 1-0 stunner — you probably would have felt the splash of Azteca’s beer-spraying tradition, a sheet of suds splashing below. Offenders were forgiven.
Back home, seismologists said they had registered a man-made earthquake, created by human celebration. True story.
“I want to dedicate this great result to all the Mexican fans who made the journey out here, to people behind the scenes and to all the people who supported us,” said Coach Juan Carlos Osorio, a Colombian who has lived much of his adult life in the United States.
“We will try to give them joy and, those who don’t support us yet, we will work to convince them to join us.”
This result — which inflicted Germany with its first opening defeat since 1982 — will help the cause.
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Mexico has a rich soccer tradition, but major victories — and advancement — in the World Cup have been elusive. El Tri, as the team is known, has lost in the round of 16 every four years since 1994.
This year, the Mexicans are in prime position to end the hex. By finishing first in Group F, they would avoid the likely Group E winner, Brazil, in the next round. First, though, they must earn points against South Korea and Sweden.
“Nobody can tell us not to dream,” goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa said. “We are here in this competition and we want to stay until the last day. We know it is going to be difficult, but we know that we can compete against any team.”
They welcomed the lift from the rocking crowd.
“Since the anthem started,” Ochoa said, “everybody knew who the home team was.”
With much of the 78,011 backing them, the Mexicans were unfazed by the four-time world champions and were the superior side in the first half.
German Coach Joachim Loew conceded that his team “played very badly” in the opening 45 minutes.
Mexico, Osorio said, “managed to play defensively with a great deal of intelligence and to hunt them on the counter.”
His team yielded possession and waited for moments to launch quick and confident counterattacks through its speedy wings. Promising forays dissolved in the final third of the attack, but something in green was brewing.
In the 35th minute, a goal of quality in conception and execution. A combination, a diagonal ball from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, and Lozano was operating on the left side of the penalty area.
Mesut Ozil cut him off. Lozano cut the ball back. With a swing of his right leg, he beat Manuel Neuer, Germany’s elite goalkeeper, to the near corner.
Delirium on the banks of the Moscow River, euphoria across a distant continent.
“It’s definitely the best goal I’ve ever scored in my entire life,” said Lozano, a 22-year-old attacker who plays professionally for PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
Germany’s Toni Kroos threatened to level the score four minutes later, but his 25-yard free kick crashed off the crossbar.
In the second half, Hernandez failed to connect with Carlos Vela on a two-on-one, leaving the outcome in question. Germany applied almost unbearable pressure for what seemed like hours. Mexico bent but did not break, surviving Julian Brandt’s clever touch off the left post in the 89th minute and German desperation in stoppage time.
The only other time Mexico had beaten Germany was in a 1985 friendly.
“The phrase today was: to play for the love of winning, not for the fear of losing,” Osorio said. “We played with bravery when it was needed and we defended with all our hearts.”
Germany, a tournament co-favorite with Brazil, must earn at least four points from the last two group matches to avoid first-round elimination for the first time since 1938. Four years ago, the Germans did not lose any games and, en route to the title in Rio de Janeiro, they defeated France, Brazil and Argentina.
Germany had 26 shots, the most by a team without scoring in a World Cup match since 2006.
Asked whether he were worried about an early departure, Loew responded without a hint of uncertainty: “We will not suffer that fate.”
Mexico has a brighter outlook.
“Our objective is in the long term,” Hernandez said. “We have to stay calm. We want to get to the final. We have to go step by step. This was an important step.”
Germany: vs. Sweden in Sochi, Saturday.
Mexico: vs. South Korea in Rostov-on-Don, Saturday.
Brandt’s shot hits the post
Germany knocked the ball around in the box for a solid 30 seconds before Julian Brandt’s shot just barely clipped the right side of the post and careened out of danger. It’s one of those days, for Germany.
Germany’s frustration is showing
Two yellow cards for Die Mannschaft in the past couple of minutes: Tomas Muller gets booked after tripping Hector Herrera in the 84th minute, and Hummels just earned one for a late tackle just moments after Mexico’s keeper saves a shot from Toni Kroos.
Layun keeps pushing
Mexico isn’t letting up anytime soon, especially not after Germany put an extra forward on the field and took a defender away. In the 79th minute, Layun sped down the field and ended up one-on-one with Mats Hummels before he cut right and his shot sailed over the net. After, Mexico wasted a three-on-two counterattack with a poor pass to Layun. They’re still pushing.
Captain Rafa Marquez, 39, replaced Guadardo in the 74th minute for Mexico and becomes the third player in history to play in five World Cups.
Important sub, Pt. II
Chucky Lozano, whose goal could end up being the game-winner, is taken out for Raul Jimenez in the 66th minute.
Mexico makes a change on the defensive in the 58th minute, replacing forward Carlos Vela — who’s had a very good game — with defender Edson Alvarez. Germany makes its first change two minutes later, putting in Marco Reus for Sami Khedira.
Halftime update: Mexico leads, 1-0
Intermission couldn’t have come quickly enough for the defending champions, who desperately need to find a way to resettle and knock Mexico’s confidence down a peg. El Tri have absolutely blitzed Germany’s languid defense so far, despite that Die Mannschaft has controlled the ball for 64 percent of the time. Mexico hasn’t held a lead against Germany since June 19, 1998, per ESPN Stats & Info. That’s quite a streak at stake.
And it couldn’t have been a better pair. Chicharito Hernandez broke away and got a perfectly timed pass to Lozano, who cut inside to beat Germany’s No. 10 Mesut Ozil and score on his second touch. El Tri pulled ahead 1-0 in the 35th minute. scores on his second touch after getting around his Germany defender and El Tri are ahead 1-0.
Mexico’s free kick doesn’t go the distance
El Tri are making the defending champions uncomfortable early, and Germany hasn’t had too many chances to get out of its own defensive end. Mexico’s second free kick, far out and to the right, ends up bouncing right to Neuer. But boy, does Mexico look threatening.
A cracking start for El Tri
Mexico charged right out of the gate with Hirving Lozano streaking right at keeper Manuel Neuer. Lozano looked like the was going to beat the German for a moment, but defender Jermone Boateng diverted his shot over the net at the last second. El Tri threatened again before Germany got a shot off. Later, in the ninth minute, Miguel Layun sends a free kick way too high, and Neuer breathes a sigh of relief.
Mexico fans have landed in Russia
El Tri’s die-hards are out in full force to support their side against the defending champions.
This tasty matchup between Group F’s two heavyweights pits perennial top dog Germany against a Mexican team dogged by an inability to get out of the round of 16. Germany (technically, Germany and West Germany) has the second-most World Cup championships in tournament history with four (Brazil has five), and arrives in Russia as the defending champion. Mexico, meanwhile, has been defeated in the round of 16 in each of the past six World Cups.
This time around, El Tri has an appealing mix of weathered veterans, including 39-year-old Rafa Marquez, and confident youngsters who helped carry the squad to an undefeated run and first-place finish in Concacaf qualifying. Mexico has plenty of experience playing together, but is hardly the German machine that cruised through qualifying by scoring 43 goals and conceding only four. Die Mannschaft skews slightly younger than usual this summer without Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose and Philipp Lamm on the roster, and has only nine players turning from 2014’s championship side. But with experienced talents like Thomas Mueller, Manuel Neuer and Mats Hummels anchoring the squad, Germany is still in fine position to become the third team in history to win back-to-back World Cups.
— Ava Wallace
- Last World Cup showing: Champion, 2014.
- Best finish: Germany has four World Cups; it also won in 1990, 1974 and 1954.
- Notable: In eight trips to the final, Germany has finished as runner-up a record four times. It has also played 106 World Cup games, more than any other nation.
- FIFA world ranking: 1. ELO world ranking: 2.
- Last World Cup showing: Round of 16, 2014.
- Best finish: Quarterfinals, 1986 and 1970 — the two times Mexico hosted the World Cup.
- Notable: Mexico has lost in the round of 16 in every World Cup since 1994. Brazil and Germany are the only other teams to have reached five consecutive knockout rounds.
- FIFA world ranking: 15. ELO world ranking: 18.
Players to watch
Mexico’s 22-year-old, right-footed left winger Hirving Lozano isn’t just El Tri’s next great hope, he’s one of the World Cup’s brightest young stars, full stop. In his first season with Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, “Chucky,” as he’s called, led the team with 17 goals and had eight assists in just 29 appearances. He’ll work with Major League Soccer standout Carlos Vela, who had seven goals in his first 11 matches as a right wing for Los Angeles FC. Germany, meantime, is stuffed with talent, but no one is as fun to watch in international events as Thomas Mueller. The wing-striker hybrid has 10 World Cup goals in 13 matches, which ties him for eighth on the all-time scoring list. He’ll be supported in the midfield by Toni Kroos, who dictates tempo for Germany, and captain Manuel Neuer in goal. Neuer came back from a nine-month injury layoff to play his first match on June 2.
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