When celebrations cause earthquakes, it is a pretty good indicator that something massive occurred. Something massive did occur Sunday in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. Hirving Lozano’s goal, the cause of said earthquake in CDMX, was the difference in what can easily be named the greatest group stage win in Mexico’s history. The win was over nada mas y nada menos que los Alemanes. You remember them, right? The 4-time champs, the defending champs, the prohibitive favorites to win the whole babushka for the 5th time? Yeah, that team.
The German pedigree, their history, and their dominance were the reasons very, very few people were giving Mexico a next to nothing chance to win the match. Un servidor thought the best way to look at the match was as a risk assessment. How can Mexico limit the damage against the German juggernaut? What would be an acceptable result? A 1-goal loss? A 2-goal loss? A draw was the goal, a win was the dream, a loss was reality.
But a long time ago, someone who is much smarter than I am once said ‘That’s why they play the game.”
From the very start, Mexico did not play at all like the “equipo chico” Mexico’s captain, Andres Guardado said was necessary to take on the Germans. Ahh, yes, the ol’ bait-and-switch. I fell for it.
Instead, Mexico anticipated and countered every German move with one of their own. They had Germany’s tendencies studied down to the last sub. “We knew that Germany generated the attack through Tony Kroos and we had to make him as uncomfortable as possible.” Javier Hernandez told FIFA.com. “But it was not just him, my job was to make it as hard as possible for Hummels to get comfortable. He is their most skilled defender. We had to disrupt their rhythm.” They did, and it forced Germany to not only generate their offense through Boateng for much of the game, but it also made them somewhat one-dimensional.
For years, particularly when players with more speed started to fold into the national team, pundits and fans alike were begging to incorporate the counter into Mexico palette of attacks. And it was the quick counter that gave Mexico the lead they defended until the final whistle. The ball moved 80 meters in 4 quick passes before Chucky banged it home.
Mexico had chances to extend their lead, but were unable to get a second. More importantly, they prevented the Germans from getting an equalizer. A sentence that I had no idea I could ever type while Osorio was in charge. Under Osorio, Mexico’ Achilles heal has been the back-line’s fragility. Just as it was last summer when the same two teams met in the Confed Cup; a 4-1 German pasting. “Of course we learned from that game. We knew we could not give them that kind of spacing. We had to pressure them constantly” Hector Herrera told FIFA.com.
Having the opponents studied to the last detail, counter attacks, very few unforced errors. What on earth is going on here? Juan Carlos Osorio. That’s what.
“He studied the Germans for 6 months.” “He showed faith in our abilities.” “Wed dedicate this win to him.” Those are just a couple of quotes from the players about their coach. He responded in kind “Mexico played with the love to win instead of fear of losing.” The Colombian coach said in the post-match aftermath. If it isn’t abvious, they have faith in each other.
There is that word again, Colombian. A word that has defined Mexico’s coach, for better or worse, throughout his tenure. It should not matter where he is from, but it does. It seems like a lot of folks who cover Mexican soccer for a living decided to take a position against the coach for being just that: Colombian. What was their motivation? Are Colombians not as savvy as other South American coaches? Brazilian, Argentine, and European coaches didn’t seem to face as much criticism in Mexico. The animosity started the minute Osorio’s introductory press conference was over. How dare this guy, who is Colombian, dare talk to us about our national game like he knows what he is talking about?
That animosity was palpable for 3 years. It was there for the wins, the player rotations, the losses, the 7-0, the 4-1, and everything else. Even in the warm-ups, where it was obvious to even the most neophyte soccer follower that Mexico was showing signs of a team that understood and executed the coach’s game plan, the detractors trotted out their favorite line: “No juegan a nada.”
Were they watching the same games? Mexico has been clicking for a couple of weeks. Yes, it is true that Mexico did not score, but they were able to generate plenty of chances in those matches, just as they were in the Luzhniki. Soccer is not sport where the final score is 8-6, 10-9, etc. It is a game where 1 is all you need. Mexico got the one it needed. And then made it count.
Players get the credit when a team wins, and a coach takes the blame when it loses
One of the great sport clichés. Osorio gave Mexico the plan, the players executed flawlessly. And those same pundits who had been crucifying Osorio for the past 3 years? Now they were calling him a genius in the same breath as they were making their choices of how they want their crow prepared and plated before digging in. I was no exception. So, living in Texas, I had my crow live oak-smoked, Texas BBQ style, with a side of potato salad, and a cold beer.
It was a great win, but it was just that: 1 win in the group stage of the World Cup. There is still plenty of points to be taken, and traps in which to fall. We Mexico fans are a fickle bunch: we can call a team the best-ever and the worst-ever from one game to the next. The players understand the win was big, but they also know it was just one leg of the journey. Javier Hernandez, who removed the name Chicharito from the back of his jersey, was a vocal leader on the pitch, as well as an emotional one, had this to say after the match.
Esto es de todos!! Se juegue o no!! Que gran grupo! Gran triunfo, gran esfuerzo!! Pero solo es un paso, con mucha ecuanimidad, a disfrutar y a partir de los próximos días enfocarnos en el siguiente rival!!! #NadaNosDetiene #VivaMéxico pic.twitter.com/4AQoxZmuwI
— Chicharito Hernandez (@CH14_) June 17, 2018
We have all enjoyed the win, and will continue to do so for a long time. But beating Germany does you no good if you do not take care of business over the next two games. As Javier says, it is just one step. The journey has just begun. But the opening number was a showstopper.