- Juan Carlos Osorio hit all the right notes in Mexico's stunning win over Germany, while set pieces continued to play a big role, with Switzerland tying Brazil and Serbia beating Costa Rica on dead-ball situations.
MOSCOW — Day 4 of World Cup 2018 was defined by Mexico’s history-making win over World Cup champion Germany, more decisive set-piece goals and the continued underperformance of the favorites for the tournament.
Behind a brilliant goal on the counterattack by Chucky Lozano, Mexico beat Germany 1-0 here in El Tri’s greatest victory in the modern World Cup era. Meanwhile in Group E, Switzerland gave Brazil a rougher-than expected welcome with a 1-1 tie, while Serbia beat Costa Rica 1-0 on an Aleksandar Kolarov free kick.
Here are my five thoughts on the day in Russia:
• Juan Carlos Osorio got everything right
The Mexico coach has been under fire from the nation’s media and fans—thousands of whom chanted “Osorio out!” at their last pre-World Cup game in Mexico—but Osorio pulled all the right strings in Mexico’s upset of world champion Germany. Osorio clearly wanted Mexico to break down the left side on the counter through Chucky Lozano, and you could see it from the very first minute onward.
Even though Mexico ended up being wasteful at times on the counter against a German back line that was pushed extraordinarily high, Lozano found the target with a poised finish in the 35th minute, and that was all El Tri ended up needing for its historic win. Just as important was Mexico’s defensive organization. The back line made some egregious mistakes early in last year’s 4-1 loss to Germany at Confederations Cup, and none of that happened on Sunday. Today Mexico had a gameplan, and it executed that plan perfectly.
• Lozano breakout mode: Engaged!
I named Lozano my World Cup breakout player before the tournament, and on Sunday he showed why that could be the case, continuing the excellent scoring form he showed this past season at PSV. Lozano knows what to do in the box, and he didn’t rush his finish against Germany, preferring to let Mesut Özil overrun the ball before cutting inside and finishing past Neuer. At just 22, Lozano will have plenty of big clubs pursuing him if he continues to play with such fearlessness and be a constant threat on the break.
• All the favorites have gotten off to slower-than-expected starts
Germany. Brazil. Spain. France. Before the tournament, conventional wisdom said that the top four teams in this World Cup were better than the top four in recent World Cups. But Brazil and Spain only got one point apiece from their opening games, Germany got zero points against Mexico and France looked extremely pedestrian in a 2-1 win against Australia. Factor in Argentina's draw against Iceland and Uruguay needing last-second heroics to defeat Egypt, and a lot of the results have been rather unexpected thus far.
It’s only one match, and you can be certain that some of these powerhouses will rebound with a vengeance, but conventional wisdom isn’t always right in the end.
• Germany has issues to address
It’s worth reminding everyone that three of the last four World Cup champions have gone out in the group stage of the following World Cup. Nobody would have contemplated such a possible fate for this German team, and while it’s true that this was only one game, Thomas Müller was right when he said that from now on the Germans will have to treat every match as an elimination game.
Manuel Neuer has turned the sweeper keeper role into an art form behind a high back line, but Mexico was able to counter into so much space that you have to wonder if Jogi Low might want to dial things down a bit. Germany was also lacking a cutting edge in the attacking third, and it didn’t have the ability to bring on a player with the qualities of Leroy Sané, who was cut from the squad surprisingly before the World Cup. Low really could have used him.
• Set pieces continue to decide World Cup games
Kolarov’s gorgeous second-half free kick gave Serbia a 1-0 win against Costa Rica in a game that won’t go down fondly in the history books. The recipe was there for Costa Rica to play to its identity—being incredibly hard to play against—but the Ticos couldn’t muster enough attacking chances, and David Guzmán’s unfortunate foul in a dangerous location gave Kolarov the chance to pounce.
Serbia’s win as well as Switzerland’s tie with Brazil (with an equalizer off a corner kick) were just the latest games to be decided by a set-piece after Uruguay-Egypt, Iran-Morocco, Portugal-Spain and Croatia-Nigeria. These games often have such fine margins that world-class quality on specific set-piece moments can make the difference.