World Cup Recap Match 10: Mexico 1, Germany 0 (June 17)

Hiriving Lozano’s goal in the 35th minute to finish off a counterattack proved decisive as Mexico pulled off the first victorious upset of this World Cup by stunning defending champion Germany in the Group E opener at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

El Tri struck often and quickly on the counter, absorbing pressure from the four-time champion before rapidly flying forward upfield in the space vacated by right back Joshua Kimmich time and again.

Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio planned well for this game and made smart use of his substitutions, getting fresh legs in for the final half-hour after Carlos Vela ran himself into the ground and introducing 39-year-old defender Rafa Marquez for the final 15 minutes to help see the result through.

It was also a history-making cap for Marquez as he became just the fourth player in to appear in five World Cup tournaments, joining compatriot Antonio Carabajal, Germany’s Lotthar Matthaus and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

It was the first time in 33 years Mexico had beaten Germany in any match as El Tri also became the first CONCACAF side in eight World Cup matches (1-1-6) to defeat Die Mannschaft.

Germany looked sluggish throughout the contest, coming closest to finding an equalizer in the 40th minute when Toni Kroos had a free kick from 30 yards on the right that Memo Ochoa pushed onto the crossbar. It marked the third time in the last four World Cup tournaments the defending champion dropped its opening match as Germany joined France (2002), Italy (2010) and Spain (2014) on that dubious list.

It was also the first time Die Mannschaft dropped their World Cup opening match since a 2-1 loss to Algeria in 1982. While they will be favored in their remaining group matches against Sweden and South Korea, there is now the chance they will not advance out of group play for the first time since 1934.

Mexico, meanwhile, appear on its way to making the knockout round for the seventh consecutive World Cup. El Tri, of course, have yet to progress beyond the round of 16 since reaching the quarterfinals as hosts in 1986.

The title-holders failed to display their usual ruthless clinical finishing throughout the contest despite amassing 26 shots. There was a brief flurry midway through the second half in which Timo Werner blazed a volley over the bar from 12 yards and Joshua Kimmich’s bicycle kick narrowly went over as it landed on the net.

In the closing minutes of regulation, substitute Mario Gomez missed an open header, and fellow late entrant Julian Brandt glanced the outside of the left post with a 25-yard rocket Ochoa could only watch before being relieved as it ricocheted away.

Lozano’s goal started in Mexico’s half of the pitch where Sami Khedira lost the ball in possession. Hector Moreno started the counter with a pass to Chicharito Hernandez in the center circle, and the striker played a 1-2 with Andres Guardado to build up a head of a steam.

Running on Chicharito’s left was Lozano, who was played into the penalty area. Lozano gathered the ball, cut hard to his right around Mesut Ozil and took another step to his right before lashing a 10-yard shot that beat Manuel Neuer low to the near post.

The first half had plenty of pace on both sides, with Mexico refusing to cede any ground. Germany defender Jerome Boateng made a last-gasp block of a shot in the second minute, and Werner fizzed a shot wide of the left post past a diving Ochoa moments later.

Mats Hummels had an effort from distance right at Ochoa, and Hector Herrera did likewise from 25 yards for El Tri that did not trouble Neuer much. A handball by Kroos gave Mexico a free kick in a threatening position just before the quarter-hour, but Moreno’s downward header was too close to Neuer.

Kimmich provided an inch-perfect cross that Khedira could not re-direct into the goal from close range, though Mexico defender Carlos Salcedo came perilously close to slotting it into his net for an own goal.

While Germany had a lion’s share of possession after Lozano’s goal, Mexico often proved dangerous on the counter and should have done better on a few occasions. Hernandez had a penalty shout rightfully turned down after being sent through the midfield by Miguel Layun in the 70th minute, and Guardado failed to get a good look on target before that after Hernandez’s pass across the box was too wide for Lozano, who then tried to find Guardado.

In the 77th minute, Julian Draxler flashed to the top of the penalty area as Mexico was out of sorts defending a corner, but his instinctive volley following a pass from Kroos was deflected over the line by Edson Alvarez.

Each team collected two yellow cards, with Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels picking up cautions for Germany while Moreno and Hector Herrera did likewise for Mexico.

Next up for Mexico is South Korea at Rostov-on-Don on Saturday, while Germany will look to regroup versus Sweden later that day.

 

World Cup Recap Match 9: Serbia 1, Costa Rica 0 (June 17)

Aleksandar Kolarov’s jaw-dropping free kick from 30 yards in the 56th minute proved to be enough as Serbia defeated Costa Rica 1-0 in the Group F opener of the World Cup between these two teams in Samara.

After Aleksandar Mitrovic drew a foul on David Guzman that earned the Costa Rica defender a yellow card for his effort, Kolarov sized up his attempt, which was wide of the right post. But the AS Roma and Serbia talisman produced a wicked left-footed curling effort that split the middle of the Ticos’ four-man wall and flew inside the right post past a diving Keylor Navas.

While that sprung Costa Rica into urgency, the 2014 quarterfinalist failed to create much in the way of threatening for an equalizer in the final half-hour plus stoppage time. The Ticos also spurned two quality chances in the first 45 minutes, practically ensuring there would be no repeat of their group performance in Brazil, where they surprisingly finished atop a quartet that featured past champions Uruguay, Italy and England.

Serbia finds itself a surprising group leader after the first set of matches since Brazil was pegged back to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland. The Orlovi have not reached the knockout round since 1998, when they were known as Yugoslavia and finished in the bottom 10 of the standings in both 2006 and 2010.

The Ticos started the brighter of the two sides as Serbia keeper Vladimir Stojkovic was called into action early. He pushed out a sharp-angled shot by Marco Urena and then was fortunate Giancarlo Gonzalez put his unmarked header from the aftermath of the ensuing corner right at him in the third minute.

In the 12th minute, Gonzalez was again profligate with a gilt-edged chance, heading David Guzman’s cross well over the bar while standing all alone five yards from goal.

Serbia grew into this match at this point, gathering possession on a more consistent basis but failing to seriously threaten a well-marshaled Costa Rica defense that would have five at the back when its wide backs did not press forward to join the attack.

In the 35th minute, Navas punched out a free kick, and Costa Rica enjoyed a spike in momentum. Francisco Calvo, however, failed to put either of his shots on frame. Sergej Milinkovic-Sevic tried an audacious bicycle kick from 12 yards that Navas stopped, but the linesman had also raised his flag for offsides.

Early in the second half, Serbia created its first clear-cut chance of the game as Mitrovic and Milinkovic-Sevic worked a 1-2 to sent Mitrovic clear, but the Fulham striker could not get any power behind his shot with defender Oscar Duarte right behind him.

Ticos coach Oscar Martinez introduced Christian Bolanos for the final half-hour, and he very nearly made an instant impact with a well-struck free kick into the mixer Dusan Tadic cleared from safety.

Serbia should have seen off the game in the 75th minute, when Mitrovic sent a pass to Milinkovic-Sevic on the right in the penalty area, and the cross went past Navas, only to have Filip Kostic make an asbolute mess of things inside the six-yard area by hitting it with his back foot as it squirted away from goal.

Despite making just his fifth international appearance, the 23-year-old Milinkovic-Sevic looked comfortable pulling the strings throughout the Orlovi’s midfield. The Lazio playmaker sent Mitrovic through on two occasions in the final minutes, but the forward was unable to find a finishing move in a 1-on-1 situation.

Referee Cosmos Arena brandished his yellow card four times as Calvo joined Guzman in the book for Costa Rica while Bransilav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Prijovic were booked in the second half.

Costa Rica will have a challenging task in regrouping as it faces five-time champion Brazil in St. Petersburg on Friday, while Serbia will look to take a huge step towards qualifying for the knockout round later that day in Kaliningrad.

 

World Cup Recap — Match 8: Croatia 2, Nigeria 0 (June 16)

A first-half own goal by Nigeria defender Oghenekaro Etebo and a second-half penalty by Luka Modric was enough to see Croatia through to a 2-0 victory in the Group D opener of the World Cup for these teams Saturday in Kaliningrad.

Neither side looked overly impressive, with the youthful Super Eagles failing to seriously threaten on the counterattack while the Vatreni were content to knock the ball around and slow down the game. The strategy worked as Croatia moved atop Group D after group favorites Argentina were held to a 1-1 draw by Iceland earlier Saturday.

Both goals started with Croatia corner kicks, with Andrej Kramaric’s diving header nicking off the right foot of Etebo and inside the left post in the 32nd minute. In the 70th minute, referee Sandro Ricci awarded a rare penalty for a defensive foul on a corner kick, though it was justified as Nigeria defender William Troost-Ekong was draped all over Mandzukic and took him to the turf.

Modric, continuing a banner year which saw him win the Champions League title with Real Madrid last month, stared down Nigeria keeper Francis Uzoho before slotting the penalty into the lower left corner.

Croatia started the brighter of the two sides, with Ivan Perisic blazing over the bar with a curling right-footed shot from 20 minutes and Mandzukic also having a go from distance. When Nigeria found footing to counter, it was often foiled by a lack of touch in the final third and failed to put a shot on frame in the opening half.

Etebo’s fateful error came on a corner taken by Modric that was nodded on by Ante Rebic in the six-yard box before Kramaric made contact. The goal livened up the contest, with Kramaric nearly grabbing a goal for himself but failing to keep his header under the bar on a cross from Ivan Rakitic.

The Super Eagles applied pressure after the interval, starting the second half with a succession of three corners, with Victor Moses’ shot going over the bar the best finish of those set pieces.

If there is a concern for the Vatreni it is the lack of offense in open play which consigned them to qualifying for this tournament via playoff. Croatia did not have a shot on frame in the run of play until second-half stoppage time, and for all of Modric’s string-pulling in the midfield, there was a lack of urgency to put consistent pressure on Nigeria.

That urgency will have to be found for Croatia’s next match since it is against what will be an aggravated Argentina side, while Nigeria will try to maintain its hopes of advancing to the knockout round for the second straight World Cup versus Iceland.

2018 World Cup Recap — Match 7: Denmark 1, Peru 0 (June 16)

Yussuf Poulsen atoned for a penalty by scoring on a rapid-fire counter in the 59th minute as Denmark spoiled Peru’s return to the World Cup after a 36-year absence with a hard-earned 1-0 victory Saturday in Saransk.

Poulsen, who was spared when Christian Cueva sent his attempt from the spot well over the crossbar after he hauled down Edison Flores late in the first half, broke forward on a 3-on-3 counterattack with playmaker Christian Eriksen. The Spurs midfielder slid the ball to his left, where Poulsen raced into the box and beat Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese inside the near post from 10 yards.

Denmark keeper Kasper Schmeichel preserved the clean sheet with two world-class saves, one coming shortly after the goal when he got his left hand to a shot by Flores. Minutes after Peru captain Paolo Guerrero nearly scored on a backheel that rolled agonizingly wide of the right post, Schmeichel then got his right foot on an attempt from 15 yards by Jefferson Farfan.

The win lifts Denmark into second place in Group C, behind France on goals scored, while Peru is third ahead of Australia on the same tiebreaker.

After being absent from football biggest stage for nearly four decades, Peru looked determined to make up for all that lost time as the South American team played with vigor and often used its pace to repeatedly break out of its own end. Yoshimir Yatun sent an early notice of the Incas’ intent early, trying from 30 yards that Schmeichel comfortably stopped.

Peru continued to make trouble, with Andre Sisto forcing Schmeichel into a diving save in the 12th minute on a curling effort aiming for the lower left corner. Denmark defender Andreas Christensen made a well-timed tackle at the top of the penalty area to swipe the ball away from Luis Advincula.

Things continued to go against the Danes as central midfielder William Kvist was foced off just after a half-hour due to a rib injury suffered in a collision with Farfan. Denmark finally grew into the game at that point, with Eriksen blasting a free kick into the wall and Poulsen narrowly missed getting his foot to a cross sent by Thomas Delany.

Referee Bakary Papa Gassama consulted VAR in awarding Peru a penalty after he determined Poulssen clipped Flores. Cueva, though, stutter-stepped during his run-up to the ball and appeared to lose his stride before sending a right-footed shot into the crowd instead of on frame.

Going back to the second leg of its playoff with Ireland in which Denmark fell behind in the sixth minute before roaring back to win 5-1 behind a hat trick from Eriksen, Schmeichel has not conceded a goal in 534 minutes and in five matches this calendar year.

Guerrero, who had been reinstalled to Peru’s roster after his ban for failing a drug test was suspended shortly before the World Cup, appeared as a substitute in the 62nd minute. The Flamengo striker is Peru’s all-time leading scorer with 34 goals.

2018 World Cup Recap — Match 6: Argentina 1, Iceland 1 (June 16)

Hannes Halldorsson’s save on a penalty kick by Lionel Messi in the 64th minute helped World Cup debutants Iceland grind out a 1-1 draw with two-time champions Argentina in the Group D opener in Moscow.

Playing virtually the entire second half in their own half of the pitch, the Strakarnir Okkar stubbornly held out against the 2014 runners-up and pre-World Cup favorites. Iceland was outshot 27-8, with Halldorsson making five saves behind a well-drilled defense that flooded players to the ball whenever an Argentina player had the slightest line of vision to shoot.

Messi, who stepped up to the spot after Sergio Aguero was run over by Hordur Magnusson as he tracked a cross into the penalty area, hit his attempt with pace but did not put it far away enough from Halldorsson, who correctly dove to his right and punched the shot from danger.

Messi had two chances to atone after his penalty miss, narrowly missing wide of the left post in the 82nd minute and then drilling a free kick into the Iceland wall in stoppage time. Halldorsson would have one more moment of glory, getting his left hand to a cross-turned-shot from the left by Carlos Pavon in the 87th minute that seemed destined for the far post.

The split of points leaves everything to play for in Group D as Nigeria and Croatia play later Saturday.

Aguero staked Argentina to a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute, taking a pass from Marco Rojo and turning to his left to find a half-step of space before beating Halldorsson with a 12-yard left-footed shot into the upper left side of the net. Iceland, though, equalized four minutes later as goalkeeper Willy Caballero spilled a cross by Gylfi Sigurdsson back into the middle of the penalty area, where Alfred Finnbogason pounced on the rebound and slotted home from the top of the six-yard box.

Iceland showed few signs of nerves in its first World Cup appearance which came on the heels of its first European Championship berth two years ago in which it stunned England in the round of 16 en route to a quarterfinal appearance. The Strakarnir Okkar should have had the lead inside 10 minutes, but Birkir Bjarnason dragged his shot from 10 yards wide of the left post after a shot by Johann Gudmundsson deflected in his direction.

That came almost straightaway after a near goal by Argentina in which defender Nicolas Tagliafico hit a stooping header that skipped narrowly wide of the left post before Halldorsson had time to react.

The match then settled into a pattern in which Argentina would have possession for what appeared to be minutes at a time trying to find creases in Iceland’s two lines of four that were stationed in the final third. Iceland often played all 10 men behind the ball, with right back Birkir Saevarsson consistently defusing the threat Angel Di Maria tried to create wide on the left.

Messi had plenty of touches and wound up taking 11 of Argentina’s 27 shots, putting three of them on frame. Argentina made it a point to funnel the ball to him through thge midfield when it gained possession, but Iceland often had numbers back defensively to prevent him from making a final push into the penalty area where he could use his lethal right foot.

 

World Cup Recap — Match 5: France 2, Australia 1 (June 16)

VAR made its first game-changing impact at the World Cup in Kazan, where a penalty was awarded before Paul Pogba’s looping shot in the 80th minute allowed a sluggish France side to escape with a 2-1 victory over Australia in the opening match in Group C.

In the 55th minute, Antoine Griezmann broke into the penalty area, where Joshua Risdon appeared to have made a proper tackle to knock the ball away from Griezmann and to Australia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan. After play continued, video assistant referee Mauro Vigliano signaled to Andres Cunha to review the play just off the pitch.

After examining the replay, Cunha awarded a penalty to France, which Griezmann calmly slammed into the net in the 57th minute to open the scoring. Risdon was also given a yellow card for denying an obvious goal-scoring chance.

It was a short-lived lead for Les Bleus, however, as Australia equalized via a clear-cut penalty four minutes later. France defender Samuel Umtiti inexplicably made contact with the ball with his hand in the penalty area trying to clear a free kick taken by Aaron Mooy.

Mile Jedinak pulled the Socceroos level by putting the ball into the right side of the net as France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris dove in the opposite direction.

The introduction of substitute Olivier Giroud gave some shape to Les Bleus, who were able to pin Australia in its final third though not creating many threatening chances. The decisive goal by Pogba came after a pass from Giroud, and the Manchester United midfielder took a toe poke from the top of the penalty area that may have taken a slight deflection off an Australian defender as it looped over Ryan and hit the crossbar before dropping completely over the line to make it 2-1.

The three points gained hides plenty of issues for France, considered one of the pre-World Cup favorites with a very talented but also very young side under Didier Deschamps. Les Bleus failed to establish a rhythm for much of the match against a well-drilled Australia side that was not afraid to venture forward when it gained possession.

After an early flurry by France in the first 10 minutes of the match in which Ryan had to be alert on multiple occasions, Australia wound up with the best scoring opportunity of the opening 45 minutes. Mooy curled a free kick into no man’s land, where France midfielder Corentin Tolisso touched the ball and forced Lloris into a diving save by his left post.

France moves onto its second match in Group C against Peru on Thursday at Ekaterinburg, while Australia will try to regroup versus Denmark the same day in Samara.

2018 World Cup — Group E Costa Rica vs Serbia Match Preview

The surprise package of the 2014 World Cup, Costa Rica looks to show its quarterfinal appearance four years ago was no fluke as it faces Serbia in the Group E opener Sunday in Samara.

Little was expected from the CONCACAF side in Brazil after being placed in a group with champions Italy, Uruguay and England. Yet it was the Ticos who finished on top with two wins and a draw while conceding just once. Their stunning ride continued by ousting Greece on penalty kicks in the round of 16 before being undone in similar fashion by the Netherlands.

Serbia is in the World Cup for the second time in three editions since its latest incarnation as a country ahead of qualifying for the 2010 tournament. The Orlovi have not been to the knockout round since reaching the round of 16 in 1998 when they were known as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

In previous iterations, Serbia’s best showing were fourth-place finishes in both the inaugural 1930 World Cup and again in 1962. The Orlovi have just one win in their last two appearances and finished last in the 32-team field in 2006.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

All five of Costa Rica’s World Cup appearances have come since qualifying for the first time in 1990. The Ticos finished second to Mexico in the final round of CONCACAF play despite not winning any of their final three matches but also sweeping the United States.

Oscar Ramirez had balanced scoring as 10 different players had at least one goal, with Marco Urena leading the way with three of his team’s 14 markers. Prior to their first quarterfinal appearance four years ago, Costa Rica had only reached the knockout round in its maiden showing in 1990.

Serbia also booked its spot in the World Cup via automatic qualification, finishing atop a group that included Ireland and 2016 European Championship semifinalist Wales. The Orlovi went unbeaten through their first eight matches and secured their spot by beating Georgia in their finale.

Aleksandar Mitrovic scored a group-high six goals and Dusan Tadic contributed four with seven assists as Serbia qualified for its first major tournament since the 2010 World Cup.

FORMATIONS

Costa Rica uses three center backs with a pair of wide backs that can shift between a 5-2-2-1 and a 3-4-2-1. But it all starts between the sticks with Keylor Navas, who is the best goalkeeper in the CONCACAF region and coming off his third consecutive Champions League title with Real Madrid.

There is one key change on the right side with defender Ronald Matarrita unavailable due to a hamstring injury. On the left, Christian Gamboa will try to push forward on rhe flank to provide support for Celso Borges. Up front, talisman Bryan Ruiz is back for his second World Cup after scoring twice in Brazil, but he also had a penalty saved in the quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands.

Borges and Ruiz are the two most capped players on the Ticos roster with 111 and 110, respectively, which puts them in the top five all-time. If Borges plays all three games, he will move into third place and Ruiz would move into a tie for fourth if he does likewise.

The Orlovi will likely set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and there is quality in the spine with central defender Branson Ivanovic and midfielder Nemanja Matic ahead of him. Partnering with Ivanovic is 20-year-old Nikola Milenkovic, who has just three caps to his name.

Mitrovic and Tadic are the offensive focal points up front for Serbia, but playmaker Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will be under pressure to produce after coach Mladen Krstajic was able to bring him back into the fold after being exiled by predecessor Slavoljub Muslin. The midfielder scored 15 goals for Lazio in all competitions this season but has just four caps.

Ivanovic is the only centurion on Serbia’s roster with 103 international appearances, and will become the country’s all-time leader with his next appearance. Goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic (81), Kolarov (76) and Tadic (53) are all over the half-century mark.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Costa Rica – Joel Campbell (M) 

The 25-year-old had a goal and an assist in the 2014 World Cup and also showed plenty of calm in converting against Greece in the round of 16. Campbell has plenty of pace, and with an inexperienced central defender on his side in Milenkovic, look for the Ticos to try and find him in space to let him cut into the final third.

Serbia – Aleksandar Mitrovic (F)

After failing to make an impact with Newcastle United and having loan deals to both Anderlecht and Bordeaux fail to materialize, Mitrovic took out his frustrations constructively in helping Fulham win promotion to the Premier League. He scored 12 goals in 17 league matches for the Cottagers after arriving in February, and the 23-year-old already has 16 goals in 37 international appearances.

RUMORED TO MOVE

Even with three Champions League titles, Navas will reportedly be on the move after the World Cup as new Real coach Julen Lopetegui reportedly wants Manchester United keeper David De Gea at the Bernabeu. Campbell is technically on loan for Arsenal at Real Betis, and it would not be surprising to see him at least make a bid for a spot with the Gunners before possibly returning to Portugal next season.

Tadic could be yet another Southampton player who winds up at Anfield with Liverpool, though Everton were reportedly interested in the winger last month as well. Newcastle have reportedly put a £15 million transfer price on Mitrovic, and it may be up to Fulham to decide if the striker is worth the price tag as it makes the jump to the top flight.

BETTING ANGLE

Per Ladbrokes, Serbia are decided favorites for this contest with 10-11 odds to win compared to 7-2 for Costa Rica. The odds of a draw are listed at 11-5. Mitrovic is the first choice as first goal-scorer with 10-3 odds, followed by Aleksandar Prijovic (7-2) and Luka Jovic (4-1). For the Ticos, Johan Venegas and Urena are joint-favorites at 13-2 while Ruiz is 8-1.

PREDICTION

In Group E, there is Brazil… and there is everyone else, which makes the race for second wide open among the Ticos, Serbia and Switzerland. Costa Rica and Switzerland both made the knockout round four years ago, so there are no easy outs in this group.

The Orlovi have the talent on paper to give Costa Rica all sorts of problems, but relying on a playmaking midfielder with just four international appearances in the World Cup seems unorthodox at best and foolish at worst. The good news for Serbia is Mitrovic has been irresistible of late and had a hat trick in Serbia’s 5-1 thumping of Brazil in a tune-up earlier this month.

If Milinkovic-Savic can get the ball to the Fulham forward, good things can happen, even against a world-class keeper in Navas. This is not a good matchup for Costa Rica since Ivanovic and Matic are very good at shutting down opponents, and the Ticos do not have a dynamic midfield that controls possession.

It will be choppy at times, but Serbia should emerge with a 1-0 victory.