At a time when statistics and predictions all pointed to a negative result, and hope was the only thing Mexican fans clung to, Hirving Lozano’s goal over Germany in the 35th minute shook the world, quite literally, and put all Mexicans on cloud nine. Mexico beat defending world champions Germany, 1-0, in a historic win that gave Los Aztecas the top of Group F for the time being. Let’s take a look at some of the things we learned from El Tri in their match of a lifetime.
1. Mexico knows how to prepare for anyone
Mexico has a history of playing up to the competition and not backing down from some of the best teams on the planet. Think back to the showdown with Brazil in 2014, their rematch bout with the Netherlands later that year, or the match with Belgium last November. I’m not sure if anyone really expected the type of first half Mexico had, though. Mexico’s defense was rock solid, the Mexicans’ positioning was top notch, and El Tri capitalized on that by going on the counterattack time and time again, creating great chances until a goal was scored. They had Germany’s number. They knew exactly how to play them and concocted the best game plan to win. Going toe-to-toe with one of the world’s most hard-nosed teams, Mexico held their own and beat the Germans in ground duels won, 58-46, and were almost neck-and-neck with them in aerial duels won, 14-12 in favor of the Europeans.
2. Hirving Lozano is Mexico’s best finisher in the box
Germany had the most shots, and the second half in particular was filled with Die Mannschaft chances, but Mexico had its fair share of brilliant scoring opportunities too, even clearer than Germany’s. Mexico found themselves outnumbering the Germans on the counterattack many times, but only one goal was scored. That goal came from Hirving Lozano, a name world football is highly familiar with now. Easily the most successful Mexican at the club level this season, Lozano took his first opportunity on the world’s grandest stage and did not disappoint. The way he scored Mexico’s goal showed his rapid pace, tremendous ball control skills, and overall his ability to make the right decisions under pressure. Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela, and Miguel Layun all had similar chances to the ones Lozano did, but all of them had a lapse in judgement or made a pass error so the goal would not come. But not “Chucky”. He truly showed why he is Mexico’s golden boy and maybe the most important player for El Tri in this competition.
3. Ochoa has not changed a bit
In an ever-changing world, Guillermo Ochoa’s brilliant saves stand the test of time. Like he did against La Verde-Amarela back in 2014, Ochoa’s nine saves were the insurance for a defense that were, by themselves, already doing a good job of suppressing German attacks. Ochoa will no doubt go down as one of the most remembered goalkeepers of Mexico’s history. He may not be as iconic as Jorge Campos or Oswaldo Sanchez, but he is constantly El Tri’s superman. Although his club career has been rather uninteresting and his current spell in the Belgian league has been questioned, we can all see now that none of that has affected Ochoa’s international performances in the slightest.
4. Miguel Layun: Yet Another Attacking Midfielder
Anyone could guess that manager Juan Carlos Osorio was going to have some players out of their natural position at some point this tournament. However, I don’t think many people would’ve bet money on Miguel Layun starting with Lozano and Vela in the attacking midfield line. Usually a left (and sometimes right) back, Layun is no stranger to playing higher up the pitch, but had yet to start as a right winger in his national team career before yesterday. In his new position, Layun ended the game as one of the best six Mexican players on the pitch, finishing with five shots, a 77 percent pass accuracy and a 7.3 rating from SofaScore.
5. The debuting Mexicans thrived under the pressure
All eyes were on Lozano, Carlos Salcedo, Hugo Ayala, Edson Alvarez and Jesus Gallardo, who were all making their world cup debuts. Salcedo and Ayala were solid for Mexico in the back, we’ve already talked about Lozano, but the most surprising men were Gallardo and Alvarez. The two young players still playing in the Liga MX were questioned by some fans due to lack of experience. Early in the game, Germany almost always tried attacking down Gallardo’s side of the pitch, hoping to exploit that inexperience. What the Germans received instead was an introduction to a player that would finish the game as second best man on the pitch, according to SofaScore. Gallardo recorded seven clearances, two blocked shots, eight interceptions, two tackles and won seven out of 12 duels en route to earning an 8.1 match rating, the best only behind Ochoa’s 9.0. Alvarez, meanwhile, came in as a sub for Carlos Vela in the second half and while his match wasn’t as impressive statistically, he did manage a few crucial ball clearances and blocked shots and his ripe, young age of 20 did not show whatsoever.
6. Juan Carlos Osorio knows what he’s doing
Let’s be honest, who all criticized Osorio for his coaching decisions and lineup changes at least once during his Mexico national team tenure? Mostly all of Mexico’s fans would be raising their hands at this moment. The at times confusing Colombian has always referred to himself as a student of the game, and there is nothing Osorio likes to do more than scout prepare for a team using his tactics. He did just that and his players, who have backed him up and showed him love constantly, exercised his game plan until the impossible became possible. Mexico’s lineup changes may have frustrated many, but maybe in that way, teams like Germany didn’t exactly know what to expect from Mexico. Maybe, in some odd way, it gave the Mexican team leverage. Osorio knew exactly how they were going to play Germany. Now that the toughest group stage test is over, Osorio might still not yet be regarded as a hero of Mexican fútbol, but that might all change because with the way things are looking….
7. ‘El Quinto Partido’ is closer than ever
Three points in the bag against the reigning kings of soccer. Next up, South Korea and later Sweden. Barring a usual Mexican pitfall against a lower-ranked team, Mexico DOES have what it takes to finish at the top of Group F with a perfect nine points. That would mean El Tri will face the second placed team from Group E in the Round of 16. It would most likely be against Serbia or Switzerland, although Brazil did shock the world by drawing with the Swiss, 1-1, yesterday. Still, Brazil are favorites to beat Serbia and Costa Rica, and even if they don’t, even if they finish second place and by some nasty luck Mexico are pitted against them, it won’t matter. Mexico showed us it could get the win against anyone. Brazil is not Mexico’s boogeyman anymore.