The World Cup defending champion's curse isn't showing any signs of wearing off. Italy exited in the group stage in 2010 and Spain followed suit in 2014. Now, on the fourth day of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Germany have lost their first game. It was all down to some meticulous planning and targeting of German weak points that helped Mexico beat Die Mannschaft 1-0 at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow.
Playing in an atmosphere that made it seem like a home ground, the Mexicans were ruthless in attack and resolute in defence. There were loud boos for Germany when they came on to the pitch to train, and during the game as well. The Germans, with all the fire power at their disposal, were wasteful throughout.
They had twice the shots their opponents had (26 shots, compared to Mexico's 13). Yet, most of the German shots were random swings at the goal, from outside the box, or desperate miscalculated attempts when they trailed.
Playing a very high defensive line, the Germans laid themselves bare to Mexico's dangerous counter-attacks. The North Americans were allowed free to run down the wings, creating trouble particularly for the young German right back Joshua Kimmich. But it wasn't just the wings.
Every time Mexico got the ball, attackers Javier Hernandez, Hirving Lozano and Miguel Layún ran at the German defence with supreme confidence. Mexico had 17 successful dribbles during the game, compared to Germany's seven. Lozano's goal in the 35th minute was a result of a brilliant counter attacking move from defence. Hernandez provided the crucial assist.
During the post-match press conference, Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio said, “We had plans six months ago to have two quick players on the wings... We chose Hirving, our quickest player, and Miguel Layún, an offensive midfield player.” He went on to say that they had rehearsed everything to perfection on the training ground, and even prepared for a scenario where striker Mario Gomez would be brought on. Osorio lauded his players for playing with “real bravery”.
German keeper Manuel Neuer, who returned from a long injury spell, was kept busy, but the real hero of the game was Mexican shot stopper Guillermo Ochoa. Showing flashes of his brilliance that was the highlight of Mexico's 2014 campaign, Ochoa exceeded expectations yet again by shutting out the Germans with some classy saves. His defenders helped him too.
Surprisingly, German coach Joachim Loew, for once, started both Julian Draxler and Mesut Ozil in attack, when he usually plays only one of the two in the attacking midfield position. Considering the recent political debate around Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan's meeting with the Turkish president, it seemed like the players were not ready to play. Ozil started anyway, but his influence on the game was minimal.
With Mexico defending deep and in numbers, the Germans pushed themselves forward, yet found it hard to breach the Mexican wall. Toni Kroos was repeatedly called to action in front, leaving the centre backs exposed to Mexico's attacks. Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels were left scrambling to save their goal.
Towards the end of the game, German players started panicking and lost their cool, attracting several bookings from the referee. A lot of chances were created towards the end, but the Mexican defenders held fort and kept a check on any German advance.
After the game, Loew said that his team was negligent and haphazard in their approach to the game. For all the talk of depth during last year's Confederation Cup win, this was an uninspired, unorganised performance by Germany. This is the first time since 1982 that Germany have lost the opening game of the World Cup. Yet, on that occasion, the team reached the final.
The Mexicans, on the other hand, thoroughly entertained their roaring fans with some pulsating attacks and zippy one-touch passes. It is said that an artificial earthquake was created in Mexico City when Lozano scored the goal. The impact could be no different on the outcome of this tournament.