MOSCOW — Germany is proving no exception to the trend of defending World Cup champions finding it hard to escape the group stage of FIFA’s tournament.
Mexico threw the No. 1-ranked team’s hopes of advancement in doubt by exposing Germany’s defensive weaknesses with a hard-fought 1-0 victory.
Not everybody doubts Germany’s chances of moving up yet again, as coach Joachim Loew said, “We will make it. There’s no reason to fall apart because you lose one game.”
Hirving Lozano scored the only goal of the game with ten minutes to go before halftime, beating Mesut Ozil before shooting past goalkeeper Manuel Neuer from just 10 yards out. The goal proved to be decisive.
“I don’t know if it’s the biggest victory in (Mexico’s) history, but one of the biggest for sure,” Lozano said. “My teammates and I did some great work. We all ran our hearts out. This is the result of all that hard work.”
Three of the four most recent defending champions failed to move past the group stage. France and Spain lost their opening matches while the Italians were forced to settle for a draw.
The Germans aim to become the first back-to-back champion in FIFA World Cup play since Brazil achieved the feat in 1962, but have now only won one of their last seven games in all competitions. It had been since then-West Germany lost to Algeria in 1982 for Germany to have lost an opening game.
Mexico seemed completely transformed from the team which lost, 4-1, to Germany in last year’s Confederations Cup. Following that loss, they had never beaten Germany in a competitive match.
The 22-year-old Lozano (nicknamed “Chucky” due to his childhood pranks on teammates) set the tone for Mexico with a shot on goal in the first minute. After his goal put Mexico in front, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made a spectacular save to preserve the lead.
“We were nervous and we weren’t playing the game we wanted to play,” Loew said. “We need to see what caused this.”
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio rested some of his key players, including Lozano, in the second half, bringing in 39-year-old Rafael Marquez to play in his fifth World Cup. Germany dominated, but was unable to capitalize on its breakthroughs.
“You had the feeling that the ball just wouldn’t go in anyhow,” Loew said. “Everyone’s very disappointed.”
Germany needs points from matches against Sweden and South Korea to avoid ending its World Cup run early.
“We’re already in the knockout stages,” Neuer said. “Because we only have finals now.”
***Associated Press contributed***