Germany vs Mexico, World Cup 2018: Reigning world champions stunned by Hirving Lozano’s counter-attack goal

Mark Critchley

If the secret to German football’s success since their 're-boot' at the turn of the century has been the industrialisation of producing elite talent, then this was a moment of malfunction - the time a spanner fell into the works.

For the second successive tournament, the holders of the World Cup have suffered an opening game defeat - and though Mexico’s remarkable 1-0 victory here at the Luzhniki was not as emphatic as Spain’s 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands four years ago - it was no less astonishing a result.

Hirving ‘Chucky’ Lozano, the player that El Tri’s substantial travelling support has pinned its hopes on, scored the decisive goal - finally finishing off one of the many counters Juan Carlos Osario’s side threatened with in the first half.

Yet this was not the story of one man, it was a tale of two teams. One rose above all expectations by adopting a courageous, ruthless and brilliant approach. The other failed to amount to the sum of its parts and fell far below its usual exacting standards.

At last summer’s Confederations Cup, held here in Russia, Germany’s head coach Joachim Low used a squad of second-stringers on his way to victory in the final. Mexico were comfortably beaten in the semis, and the nation revived its interest in a national team that was rolling over opponents with the same familiar faces.

That strength in depth is one other reason why Germany are among the favourites for this tournament. Yet a year on, with many of those familiar faces back in Low’s line-up, here was a reminder that strength in depth is of minor importance in international tournaments. A wealth of talent is all well and good, but points are won by 11 players working to an effective tactical plan.

Germany’s success under Joachim Low has been built upon patient, methodical build-up play that eventually overloads and overwhelms the opponent. Mexico, in the opening stages of this encounter, could hardly have taken a more contrasting approach. Juan Carlos Osario’s side showed the reigning champions little to no respect, barely allowing them to draw breath.

Juan Carlos Osorio celebrates a famous victory (Getty)

Perhaps understanding that there was little point settling for a draw, given how a second-placed finish in Group F will likely set up a last-16 meeting with tournament favourites Brazil, Mexico's quick, cohesive four of Lozano, Miguel Layun, Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez sought blood from the first whistle, and almost found it straight away.

Jerome Boateng, often Germany's saviour in frantic first half, had blocked a goal-bound Lozano effort before a minute was up on the clock. The chances kept coming, too. Although Germany were intermittently threatening themselves, many of their forays forward featured the marauding runs of right-back Joshua Kimmich, who seemed unconcerned about the amount of space he left behind him.

This, combined with indifferent showings from Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira in midfield, meant Boateng and his defensive partner Mats Hummels were repeatedly left to contest one-on-ones with Mexico’s frontline. They were one-on-ones they would often lose. Hernandez found himself inside the area with a clear sight of Manuel Neuer’s goal after 18 minutes, but could not move the ball out of his feet.

Lozano wheels away in delight (Getty)

There is a rule among international football's fatalists: if you spurn this many chances against Germany, they will eventually punish you. Yet Mexico's heads did not drop after the missed opportunities. Instead, Osario’s side took each as a sign that their game plan was working. Soon enough, it would produce results.

It came through one of those one-on-ones, this time against Hummels, with Hernandez spinning the Bayern Munich centre-half into submission. A one-two and he was away, but so was Lozano, making tracks down that vacated right flank. An awkward touch around Mesut Ozil made it appear as though another chance might pass, but the finish came quickly, low past Manuel Neuer at the near post. Back in Mexico City, a small artificial earthquake was apparently recorded, “possibly due to mass jumping”.

The second half was a different story. Mexico, with something to protect, could not counter as freely. Germany, their pride hurt, went in desperate search of an equaliser. Kroos had come close with a free-kick before the interval, only for Guillermo Ochoa to palm it against the crossbar and Mexico’s goalkeeper would be only become busier.

Ozil and co. could not breach Mexico's defence (Getty)

Low’s side made 18 attempts at Ochoa’s goal after the break alone. They would end 26 in total, twice the amount Mexico managed, yet few were ever as threatening as those first-half openings their opponents’ counter-attacks had created. They had been tactically out-thought, left without any coherent answers.

This was Germany’s first opening match defeat at a World Cup since 1982 - a 2-1 reverse against Algeria. That year, they still reached the final. This is only their first World Cup defeat since the 2010 semi-final against Spain. It will not precipitate another ‘re-boot’ or lead to established principles being questioned, but it will puncture that imperial air that comes with the tag of world champions - for the next month, at least.