KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW —- World Cup holders Germany started their title defence in the worst possible manner. Not only did they lose 1-0 to an exuberant and highly-charged Mexico in the Luzhniki stadium but they played badly and were fortunate not to have further embarrassed.
A particular surprise, beyond the Group F outcome, was that El Tri appeared and far better prepared for the occasion.
The omens for Joachin Low’s four-times champions had all been positive. They had won their opening game in all the last seven World Cups and had scored at least four goals on their first outing in the past four. They had also won all three of their previous duels with Mexico.
But there are lies, damned lies and statistics and Mexico were not intimidated by the numbers game. Coach Juan Carlos Osorio had been planning his match strategy ever since the draw six months ago. Germany had not apparently given the Mexicans such respect and paid the price.
They were as unimpressive as their domestic critics had feared after an uninspiring series of warm-up matches.
This was only the second time the Germans had lost their opening match, the last occasion being in 1982 against Algeria when they went on to reach the final.
It was also the third consecutive World Cup in which the champions have failed to win their opening match after Italy (a 1-1 draw with Paraguay in 2010) and Spain (a 5-1 defeat to Netherlands in 2014).
Mexico went for broke right from the start, launching a searing attack through the German defence only to see eventual match-winning hero Hirving Lozano fire over the bar.
Germany responded in kind with Timo Werner pulling a low shot wide across Gabriel Ochoa’s goal. From that point, however, Mexico were in the ascendancy. Their movement, intricate passing and arrow-like pace whenever a gap opened up in the ponderous German midfield converted every break into a direct threat on Manuel Neuer’s goal.
The German captain was forced into sharp saves by Hector Herrera and Hector Moreno which contained far more menace than a couple of German sallies at the other end from Werner again and Toni Kroos.
Mexico were thus worth the lead they seized in the 35th minute. Germany’s midfielders and defenders were caught lumbering far from home as Chicharito Hernandez raced through the middle before releasing Lozano to turn retreating Mesut Ozil and thump home before Toni Kroos could catch up.
It said everything about German disorganisation that midfielders Ozil and Kroos were the two players closest to the devastation.
Germany, perversely, came within an inch of an immediate equaliser when a Kroos free kick was pushed on to the bar by Ochoa’s fingertips but, in essence, the halftime whistle could not have come soon enough for the champions.
Change of plan
Low’s halftime instructions were obvious. Germany occupied the Mexican half of the pitch for all of the second half.
Julian Draxler, who had captained a youthful team of German reserves to victory here in Russia in the Confederations Cup last year, saw one shot deflected for a corner off a defender. But while Germany piled forward they were always vulnerable to fast-breaking counter-attacks from which Hernandez, Carlos Vela and Miguel Layun could have fashioned more goals of their own.
With the writing on the wall, German made their first attacking change with the hopelessly out-of-sorts Sami Khedira replaced by Marco Reus. He marked his arrival by sending an acrobatic bicycle kick narrowly over the bar and
Mexico responded by shoring up defence with the introduction of veteran Rafael Marquez.
The 39-year-old thus equalled the record of fellow Mexican Antonio Carbajal and Germany’s Lothar Matthaus by playing in a fifth World Cup.
In the closing stages Germany threw on veteran centre forward Mario Gomez and Leverkusen winger Julian Brandt. The latter clipped the outside of a post with one first-time shot but an equaliser would have been a travesty.
Delerium exploded among the Mexican-supporting majority of the 78,011 crowd at the final whistle.