Mexico was rocked by a wave of emotion Sunday as the national soccer team battled to a deserved 1-0 triumph in their opening World Cup group game against holders Germany.
The joy was such that one seismic monitoring agency reported tremors in Mexico City when Hirving “Chucky” Lozano netted the game’s only goal in the 35th minute at 11:35 a.m.
More rational seismic experts quickly dismissed these claims, suggesting that people jumping up and down while celebrating the goal in close proximity to monitoring equipment probably resulted in a false reading. This certainly did not constitute an “earthquake,” the Servicio Sismológico Nacional, Mexico’s national seismological service, confirmed.
Around 30,000 Mexican fans who had traveled to Russia to see the their team first-hand gave vent to their joy with euphoric celebrations both in and around the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, as well as in the vast expanse of the Red Square and its adjoining streets. Back home, the partying went on for much of the day, with thousands descending on Guadalajara’s Minerva Glorieta and the capital’s Angel de Independencia monument.
The game itself was a roller-coaster ride for both players and fans. Much-maligned Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio stunned Germany with his first half tactics, deciding to ditch a defensive formation and play with three quick strikers able to break on the counterattack, causing a host of problems for the sluggish German midfield and back four.
Lozano’s beautifully executed goal came after a sweeping counterattack, in which Guadalajara local hero Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez provided the assist.
The second half saw a gritty backs-to-the-wall defensive display as Germany threw all they could muster at Mexico, with wave after wave of attacks but, fortunately, no goals.
Criticized prior to the tournament for his lack of form and goals, Hernandez – the national team’s leading all-time goalscorer – answered his detractors with one of his best ever performances for his country. His tears that flowed at the end of the game were not only a release of bottled-up sentiments, but also demonstrated the pride this Tapatio feels every time he pulls on a green Mexico jersey.
Talking to the media after the game, Osorio, a studious Colombian who has found it difficult to win the hearts of Mexico’s passionate soccer fans, revealed that he had been working for six months on the tactics for the Germany game, identifying the world champions’ weaknesses and developing plans to exploit them.
The coach and several players warned that Mexico’s next two group games would be equally, if not more, difficult, even though they are against supposedly weaker teams than Germany – South Korea and Sweden.
"This triumph is historic and everything, but if we show up in five days and lose, it's all forgotten quickly," midfielder Andres Guardado said after the game.
Last Sunday’s exuberant celebrations will be repeated should Mexico beat South Korea on Saturday, June 23 and secure qualification to the round of 16. The game kicks off at 10 a.m. and will be shown on all Mexican free-to-air channels, as well as ESPN and Fox Sports.
On the negative side, FIFA, soccer’s governing body, said it was opening a disciplinary procedure against Mexico for a chant from fans which they say is homophobic. Despite pleas to fans to refrain from making the chant during the World Cup, it was heard several times during the Germany game.
The chant begins with “ehhhh” as the goalkeeper begins his run up for a goal kick, and ends with the word “p—o” when he kicks the ball. The word is a homophobic slang for a male prostitute, although many fans say no offense is intended.
The chant originated in Guadalajara at Chivas’ games, but was soon picked up by fans of other Mexican clubs and the national team.
The Mexican Soccer Federation received 12 sanctions for the chant during the World Cup qualifying campaign, and a heavy fine – upward of $US500,000 – could be applied this time.
The worst possible scenario for Mexico is that the chant is heard in subsequent games, and FIFA decides to take a hard line, potentially discounting group points and putting Mexico’s qualification in peril.
Players pleaded with fans to end the chant, and stressed how much help supporters provide to the team when they intone anthems such as “Cielito Lindo.”