Germany stunned as WC holders begin defence with loss to Mexico

Oli Fisher

An inspired Mexico held on to beat defending champions Germany 1-0 in a stunning performance at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

Man of the match Hirving Lozano scored the only goal of the game when he finished a Mexican break by drilling a low shot past Manuel Neuer but, in truth, this was a breathtaking team performance.

Germany, on the other hand, took too long to get going and lacked the poise the rest of the world has grown accustomed to seeing on this stage.

They have been battering teams in World Cup openers for as long as any of the players on this pitch could remember. Their last defeat in a first game was to Algeria in 1982, and since then they had averaged three and a half goals.

But right from the first minute, or even right from the national anthems, it seemed this opener could be different.

The Mexican media had talked up Lozano in the build-up and we saw why after about 30 seconds. Carlos Vela, who the Mexican media have been talking up for over a decade, found some space and slipped the ball to the onrushing Lozano, who cut inside and shot with his right.

This time it was blocked. This time. Because it was a sequence of events that would become as regular as the Moscow Metro: one every five minutes.

Now playing in Los Angeles, Vela clearly went missing during his eight years with Arsenal – only 29 appearances for the Gunners in eight frustrating seasons – but Germany could not get a handle on him, either.

Within 20 minutes, Neuer, the Golden Glove winner four years ago, had been given more chances to remind everyone of this than he could have hoped for, with Hector Herrera and West Ham’s Javier Hernandez both testing him.

But Germany were making chances, too, with Bayern’s marauding right-back Joshua Kimmich putting Timo Werner in for a shot at goal and then creating panic with a fizzing cross.

Mexico were the more composed side, though, and they also had speed and willing runners. It was noticeable that when Germany had a corner or attacking free-kick, Mexico left Hernandez, Lozano and sometimes right-winger Miguel Layun up the pitch.

So when a German move broke down in the 35th minute, we had already seen four rehearsals of what happened next: Vela to Hernandez to Lozano to his right foot, and this time to the back of net, with Neuer beaten at his near post.

The 22-year-old scored 19 in 34 games for PSV Eindhoven in the season just ended and this was his eighth in 29 for Mexico. Defenders should remember the name and the fact he does not use his left.

Germany kept asking Mexico questions but El Tri’s rearguard continued to find answers. Guillermo Ochoa, their goalkeeper, had a good Brazil 2014 as well, and he showed there is spring in his 32-year-old heels when he tipped a Toni Kroos free kick onto the bar just before the break.

But it was an omen of things to come. Germany are ranked number one by FIFA for a reason and they beat Mexico 4-1 on their way to last year’s win in the Confederations Cup, so it was inevitable that a response was coming.

Mesut Ozil, who was has been under huge pressure in the build-up for the photo opportunity he and Ilkay Gundogan gave to Turkey’s controversial president Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month, suddenly started to orchestrate affairs.

With 20 minutes to go, both Vela and Lozano were off, utterly exhausted, and Mexico were now firmly in none-shall-pass mode.

The fact that Kimmich went close with an overhead kick is a guide of high up the pitch he was playing. Julian Draxler and then Werner both saw shots fly over.

Marco Reus, the player many Germans wanted to see from the start, was on now as well and Mexico were hanging on. Julian Brandt, another late substitute, flashed a shot inches away in the 89th minute.

But that was as close as the four-time world champions would get, as Mexico, to the delight of their fervent following, held on for a famous win and a very rare German setback.