Mexico may been a long way from home, but it was clearly the home team in its World Cup opener. And its enthusiastic supporters were rewarded with a 1-0 win over Germany that made history on several fronts.
For Germany, the 2014 World Cup champion, the result marked the first time in four tries it has lost the opening game of a title defense. For Mexico, the win was its first in three tries over a reigning champion.
Forward Hirving Lozano, scored the game’s only goal late in the first half. His goal set off such a commotion that seismic detectors in Mexico City registered a false earthquake, which the geological institute said may have been generated by “massive jumps” across the city. Spectators who had gathered to watch the match on a big TV screen in the central Zocalo square screamed with joy after the score.
Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who made that score stand up with a brilliant performance, turned away nine shots to shut Germany out.
“I don’t know if it’s the biggest victory in history, but it’s one of the biggest for sure,” said the 22-year-old Lozano, who was playing in his first World Cup game. “It’s great to start on the right foot when you are playing the reigning world champions.”
“It’s definitely the best goal I’ve ever scored in my entire life.”
And it’s a victory that may have changed the course of the tournament for both teams.
With the win, Mexico is now in charge of its own destiny; with another victory in its last two games, it could advance to the knockout stage as the group champion, avoiding a second-round matchup with Brazil.
Meanwhile, Germany, the only team to have made it to the second round of every World Cup since 1954, needs at least a tie against Sweden on Saturday to keep that streak from ending.
“We will not suffer that fate,” German coach Joachim Low said through a translator.
The game started like a boxing match, with both sides trading body blows in an energetic first half. The only time the ball was in midfield was when it was passing through to either end, with the teams combining for 18 shots.
Only one of them found the back of the net, though, and that came at the end of a counterattack in the 35th minute. Mexico’s Javier Hernandez, who looked shaky early on, sent a long through ball forward for Lozano, racing into the box on the left wing.
Germany’s Mesut Ozil, tracking back on defence, caught Lozano from behind so the Mexican pulled the ball back with his left foot, spun around Ozil and put a hard-footed right-footed shot in at the near post.
It was just the second goal Mexico had scored in its last five games, equalling its worst offensive drought in four years. But with Ochoa standing up to a relentless German attack that got off 25 shots, it was enough to leave Germany without a point one game into a World Cup for the first time in 36 years. No World Cup team since 2006 has taken as many shots without scoring.
“It’s disappointing to lose the first match,” said Low, who has lost just three games in three World Cups as Germany’s coach. “It’s not a situation we’re used to at all.”
Germany didn’t go quietly though, giving Low something to build on. Eighteen of its shots came in the second half, when it enjoyed a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession. By the final minutes, the weary Mexicans were playing more with their hearts than with their feet.
“We showed a lot of character, a lot of determination,” midfielder Miguel Layun said. “We suffered a lot to get this result. That’s why this result has a lot of value.
“In football and life you have to dream with everything and fight for it. Nobody guarantees you anything.”
When the final whistle mercifully sounded, Ochoa, too tired to move, stood in front of his goal wearing a look more of relief than joy as he wiped a gloved hand across this face. Hernandez wept openly.
“Nobody can tell us not to dream,” Ochoa said. “We are here in this competition, and we want to stay until the last day. We know it is going to be difficult but we know that we can compete against any team.”