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Mexico chasing that elusive fifth World Cup game

NEWS
News
103   //    18 Jun 2018, 01:27 IST
AP Image

MOSCOW (AP) — Green-clad fans, many with oversized sombreros as big as their hopes, filled the streets outside St. Basil's Cathedral, packed the Metro and made the long walk into Luzhniki Stadium. They and millions back home have one wish, a demand really: for Mexico to play that "quinto partido," the fifth game of a World Cup.

What seemed like fantasy is now possible.

El Tri sliced the German defense over and over with counterattacks, and Hirving Lozano cracked it open, cutting back to spin around Mesut Ozil and beat goalkeeper Manuel Neuer from about 10 yards in the 35th minute.

When the final whistle sounded in an improbable 1-0 win over the defending champions on Sunday night, oft-disparaged Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio turned to the crowd and pumped both arms in the air a half-dozen times. He pounded a fist over his heart over and over, then raised those arms a few more times.

Exultant supporters who seemed to outnumber Germans in the crowd of 78,011 sang "Cielito Lindo (Lovely Sweet One)," the well-known lilting refrains of "Ay, ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores," imploring everyone "sing and don't cry."

Well, one side of the stadium was crooning and the other sobbing and stunned.

"The phrase today was to play for the love of winning, not for the fear of losing," Osorio said through a translator. "We played with bravery when it was needed, and we also defended with all our hearts."

North American soccer has always been magnitudes below Europe and South America's best. But this milestone victory, Mexico's first over Germany in a competitive match — and first in any game since 1985 — gave hope El Tri could one day rise to the top.

Osorio's strategy against the four-time champions was speed on the wings with the 22-year-old Lozano, his fastest player, and Miguel Layun. He wanted them to go wide and cross to the space in front of center backs Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, and behind midfielders Sami Khedia and Toni Kroos. Even though Germany outshot Mexico 25-12, had 61 percent possession and completed 519 passes to Mexico's 224, El Tri was the most dangerous team for much of the night. If Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela had been sharper, Mexico could have won by several goals. Confident Mexican fans chanted "Ole!" after each completed pass, like they usually do against CONCACAF rivals.

"We looked nervous and were not able to play the way we wanted to play," Germany coach Joachim Loew said. "We will have to analyze why that was the case."

Loew looked trendy cool in black pants, black T-shirt and white sneakers, and Osorio resembled an academic in a white dress shirt with sleeves rolled up. He has been in charge of Mexico since late 2015 and is called "El Profesor" — a sobriquet of ridicule, not respect. A Colombian who is bilingual and lived in the United States, Osorio had not been forgiven for a 7-0 loss to Chile in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Copa America.

Getting to that fifth game is a key. Mexico has lost six straight knockout matches. The only time it advanced further was in 1970 and 1986, when Mexico hosted and lost in the quarterfinals — the latter to Germany on penalty kicks.

"Despite whatever he does in this World Cup, I don't know if he's going to keep the job," said Mexican goalkeeper and Fox analyst Moises Munoz. "Everybody in Mexico wants that fifth game. I know this generation as everything they need to make it, and Osorio does know that two."

Last week in Denmark, Osorio wore a dark T-shirt with "CERO EXCUSAS" in green, white and red lettering.

In the giddiness that followed the victory, Osorio was asked if Mexico could now be considered a favorite. He responded by talking about remaining group games against South Korea and Sweden.

By beating Germany, Mexico put itself in position to possible play Serbia, Switzerland or Costa Rica in the second round and avoid a matchup with Brazil.

"I'd much rather say that we're going to rest. We're going to recover. And we're going to prepare for the next match," he said.

He knew this was an opener, not "quinto partido."

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