MOSCOW, June 17, 2018 - World Cup holders Germany started their title defence in the worst possible manner. Not only did they lose 1-0 to an exuberant Mexico in the Luzhniki stadium but they played badly and were fortunate not to have been further embarrassed.
A surprise, beyond the Group F outcome, was that El Tri appeared far better prepared for the occasion.
Elsewhere Brazil, who rank second in the world behind the Germans, did not have matters all their own way either. The five-time champions were held 1-1 by Switzerland in Group E whose earlier game ended in a 1-0 win for Serbia over Costa Rica.
But the major Cup headline of Day Four was earned, deservedly, by Mexico. Goalscorer Hirving Lozano hailed the “best goal I’ve scored in my entire life” and described the victory over Germany as “one of the biggest in our history.”
Mexico’s Colombian coach Juan Carlos Osorio said he and his staff had plannd their strategy ever since the World Cup draw back in December. Germany apparently did not grant El Tri similar respect and paid the price. Osorio sent his players out “to play for the love of winning and not for the fear of losing."
The omens for Germany’s four-time champions had all been positive. They had won their opening game in all the last seven World Cups and had scored at least four goals on their first outing in the past four. They had also won all three of their previous duels with Mexico. But Mexico were not to be intimidated by the numbers game.
This was only the second time the Germans had lost their opening match, the last occasion being in 1982 against Algeria when they went on to reach the final. It was also the third consecutive World Cup in which the champions have failed to win their opening match after Italy (a 1-1 draw with Paraguay in 2010) and Spain (a 5-1 defeat to Netherlands in 2014).
Mexico went for broke from the start. German captain Manuel Neuer was forced into sharp saves by Hector Herrera and Hector Moreno which contained far more menace than a couple of German sallies at the other end from Timo Werner and Toni Kroos.
Mexico were thus worth the lead they seized in the 35th minute. Germany’s midfielders and defenders were caught far from home as Chicharito Hernandez raced through the middle and released Lozano to turn Mesut Ozil and thump home before Toni Kroos could catch up.
It said everything about German disorganisation that midfielders Ozil and Kroos were the two players closest to the devastation.
Germany came within an inch of an immediate equaliser when a Kroos free kick was pushed on to the bar by keeper Gabriel Ochoa but the halftime whistle could not come soon enough for the champions.
Low’s halftime instructions were clear. Germany occupied the Mexican half for all of the second half. Yet they were always vulnerable to fast-breaking counter-attacks from which Hernandez, Carlos Vela and Miguel Layun could have fashioned more goals.
Mexico shored up defence effectively and triumphantly with the introduction of veteran Rafael Marquez. He thus equalled the record of fellow Mexican Antonio Carbajal and Germany’s Lothar Matthaus by playing in a fifth World Cup.
German coach Joachim Low said: “It was disappointing to lose the first match. That is a situation to which we are not used to but we have to accept it. In the next match we must be much better. There is no reason to break out in panic. We will make it to the next round.”
In the late match Brazil ran into problems of their own in Rostov-on-Don on being held 1-1 by Switzerland. They took a first-half lead through playermaker Philippe Coutinho but then complacency set in and they gifted Steven Zuber a ‘free’ header to equalise early in the second half.
Serbia thus top Group E after defeating Costa Rica by 1-0 in the day’s first game in Samara. Veteran fullback Aleksandar Kolarov scored the goal with a superb free kick beyond the Ticos’ Champions League-winning hero Keylor Navas.