Mexico, Mexico uber alles. Sorry Deutschland but we are all Mexicans now. Germany, the defending champions, four times winners, were left scattered about the Moscow pastures, their noses flattened by 90 minutes spent crashing into a Mexican wall.
A good big ‘un always beats a good little ‘un, my old man used to say. Not at this World Cup, and fitting that Mexico, whose fans have been leading from the front on the streets of Moscow, were given scope to really toot their horns and shake their hips.
As good as this was, it could have been even better. One-nil might easily have been four-nil such was the ferocity with which Mexico pursued this ambush. But who’s counting? None had Germany down as the first European casualty, except perhaps a few wise heads in Mexico.
After losing to Germany in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup a year ago in Russia, coach Juan Carlos Osorio promised his team would go “toe-to-toe” with the world champions, insisting they were not unbeatable. He knew more than we did.
This was Russia’s first look at the champions of 2014. In the absence of Mario Goetze – questionable fitness – and Leroy Sane – questionable decision-making on behalf of coach Joachim Loew – the breathtaking individual was absent from Germany’s squad.
The team ethic is ever valued above the maestro in the German psyche, the sum more important than the constituent parts. The result is a team that reflects the grooming habits of its players, neat and tidy. Like their hair, not a pass out of place.
Having won the qualification group without dropping a point, confidence was not lacking. But it was Mexico who brought it to them in a ripper of an opening half hour. Mexico were helped by the feeling of playing at home. Though Moscow and Mexico City are the best yards of 7,000 miles apart, there was no telling from the predominance of green and white whether the Luzhniki Stadium was a Mexican arena or Russian. And when Hirving Lozano did the unthinkable to slot Mexico’s goal, the stadium bounced beneath the weight of Mexican feet.
It is not as if Loew, pictured, did not know what was coming. “Mexico have quick transitions, quick forwards. We have seen it in other matches. The opponent always has more possession but they are quick and if you lose balls then it becomes very difficult. Time and again they were victorious in one-on-one situations. If you fall behind against teams like this you lose.”
This was not the first opportunity Mexico had carved, despite the hefty possession enjoyed by Germany. Manuel Neuer was at full stretch three times in the early rush.
Manchester United manager, Jose Mourinho, watching from his RT studio in Red Square, will have enjoyed the performance of Porto’s Hector Herrera especially. He can save his scouts the bother of combing the globe for the rest of this summer for that midfielder with forward gears. This fellow could run from Moscow to Manchester without drawing breath. The Mexican players applauded each other off at half-time. If the Germans were not so stunned or shackled by professional pride, they might have joined in.
There was no let up in Mexican chances in the second half and if Javier Hernandez were given a mulligan he would do everything on the hour differently. Racing at full tilt at the exposed German defence Little Pea lost his composure in the telling final strides, putting too much on the pass to Carlos Vela and the ball slipped away.
It seemed he ran out of legs a second time ten minutes later when sprinting goal side of Mats Hummels. In his surprise at how easy it was to burgle the German defence he forgot to make off with the booty. Falling flat on his face might have been a metaphor for his butchery of another excellent opportunity.
Though dangerous on the break, Mexico were principally concerned with protecting what they had. There was something of the Alamo about the relentless nature of the assault except in this version the Mexicans were the team boxed in.
Yet it was Mexico who continued to fashion the better openings. Twice they had the extra man after lightning breaks and each time fatigue drained their capacity to place the final pass. It doesn’t matter now. The night was theirs, leaving Loew with the headaches.
“Everybody is crestfallen and unhappy,” he said. “We have to put this behind us.”