Mexico’s Hirving Lozano celebrates with Jesus Gallardo after scoring their first goal. (Reuters Photo)
Moscow, June 17 (IANS): Mexico created the first upset of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, overcoming defending champions Germany 1-0 in a frenetic Group F game at the Luzhniki Stadium here on Sunday.
Forward Hirving Lozano’s 35th-minute goal proved to make the difference in a match played at a very high tempo as four-time champions Germany began their title defence on a disastrous note.
The game opened up at a breathtaking pace, with both Germany and Mexico playing an open game, going on an all-out attack. German striker Timo Werner had the first chance of the match but his drive from a tight angle from the right went wide of the left post.
Ranked 14 places below than the world No.1 Germany, Mexico took the European powerhouse head on, playing a quick counter-attacking game.
Germany captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was called into action to block a long-range effort from midfielder Hector Herrera in the ninth minute and five minutes later, forced to keep away a header from Mexican centre-back Hector Moreno off a corner in the 14th minute.
Germany responded through long-range efforts from Toni Kroos and Werner around 20-minute mark.
Mexico continued to threaten Neuer’s goal as Miguel Layun fired one over the cross-bar in the 25th minute. The Porto midfielder tested Neuer again but the Bayern Munich captain blocked a shot coming at his chest height.
The Latin Americans were rewarded with the 1-0 lead when a German attack broke down, leading to a quick counter-attack spearheaded by Javier Hernandez. Just over the halfway line, the West Ham United striker spotted Lozano at the left between opponent central defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng. PSV Eindhoven forward Lozano raced into the box before employing a right footed drive which beat Neuer at the bottom left corner.
Germany were quick to respond, with a 30-yard free-kick from Kroos greeting Guillermo Ochoa’s gloves before hitting the cross-bar in the 38th minute.
Mexico could have ended the first half with a 2-0 lead had Carlos Vela’s left-footed shot from the centre of the box not gone wide of the left post.
In the second half, Germany showed their intent to push for an equaliser but had to remain alert to avoid any counter-attack.
However, left-back Marvin Plattenhardt was at fault when he moved ahead and Javier once again raced ahead for a counter-attack. With Boateng closing down on him, he attempted a poor side-pass to Vela, in a big relief to the Europeans.
After this chance, Mexico were quick to put in defender Edson Alvarez, substituting Vela.
Seeing Mexico intent on going for defensive depth, Germany decided to shift gear, replacing midfielder Sami Khedira with creative forward Marco Reus in the 59th minute.
Later, Germany pinned Mexico inside their box, creating one chance after another. Joshua Kimmich, and Werner were guilty of heading corners off target, while Julian Draxler saw a curling attempt at goal deflected behind for a corner.
Later, Mexico sought another defensive cover, replacing midfielder and captain Andres Guardado with Rafael Marquez, while forward Raul Jimenez replaced Lozano.
Mexico waited for their counter-attack and twice Layun had the opportunity to give his side a cushion goal. But his shots were not on target, even failing to test Neuer in the 80th minute mark.
With times running out, a desperate Germany coach Joachim Loew decided to substitute left-back Plattenhardt with striker Mario Gomez, moving the team’s formation to a 3-2-1-4. Werner made way for Julian Brandt.
However, Mexico, with determination, defended their slender one-goal lead to secure a crucial win.