MOSCOW (Reuters) ―Defending champions Germany crashed to defeat in their first game at the World Cup on Sunday as an enterprising Mexico refused to be intimidated and came away 1-0 winners in a thrill-packed Group F opener.
A shaky warm-up campaign had called into question the dominant form the Germans showed in qualifying, but experience and records were on their side, having won every opening game at major tournaments since Joachim Loew took over as coach in 2006.
Juan Carlos Osorio’s side had other ideas, however, holding their own against the favorites’ fearsome but slowing midfield and finding space at the back and seeking to end 33 years without a win against Germany. After wasting a handful of first-half chances while living dangerously in their own half, Hirving Lozano’s 35th-minute strike on the break proved just reward.
When German center back Mats Hummels lost possession deep in the Mexican half, Javier Hernandez was released through the middle. He outpaced Jerome Boateng and with a less than perfect pass found Lozano, who controlled the ball, cut inside Mesut Ozil, held off a charging Toni Kroos and slotted past Manuel Neuer.
At the other end, Guillermo Ochoa tipped a blistering Kroos free kick on to the bar minutes later, in what was to prove the Germans’ closest effort of a match in Moscow in which they had more than 60 percent possession but could not make it count.
“Our motto was play with the love of winning and not the fear of losing,” said a delighted Osorio.
“Mexico deserved the win,” Hummels conceded, noting how he and Boateng were left exposed at the back and saying the team had failed to learn from a recent friendly defeat to Austria.
“If we go on like this, I’ll be worried,” he added. “But I expect us to improve.”
Germany pressed in the second half but struggled to find the target. Osorio beefed up his defenses to hang on, pulling off Lozano and then, with a quarter of an hour left, sending in 39-year-old Rafael Marquez at the back to become the third man ever to play in five World Cups.
Loew threw on Marco Reus in place of Sami Khedira and, with 10 minutes to go, switched left-back Marvin Plattenhardt for a second striker, Mario Gomez, to reinforce Timo Werner, who had failed to make much of a mark in the German spearhead.
Mexico had much of the 80,000 crowd in Luzhniki Stadium on its feet as the Germans left ever greater gaps at the back, and the wastefulness notably of Hernandez on the final pass may reassure future opponents that Mexico, while determined to end a Cinderella reputation, have not replaced Germany as favorites.
Youngster Julian Brandt nearly saved Loew’s night after taking over from Werner in the final minutes when he blasted a shot past Ochoa’s right post, and even goalkeeper Neuer came up for a corner in injury time.
But it was not to be.
Mexico can dream of going better than a consistent record of reaching the last 16 of the last six World Cups and perhaps of improving on the quarter-final they last reached in 1986.
“They are the best team in the world,” goalscorer Lozano said, describing his strike as “the best goal of my life”.
The Germans now face Sweden and South Korea and should still qualify from Group F. But their reputation is not what it was.
“We are now under pressure. We have to get six points from the next games,” Kroos said. “We did not do well. We had our chances but didn’t score.”
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Hugh Lawson)