Mexico’s quest for an elusive fifth game at a World Cup got off to a rousing start with a 1-0 upset of Germany on Sunday. Chucky Lozano’s first-half goal was enough to vanquish an uninspired and frustrated German team.
El Tri, as it’s nicknamed, has reached the knockout stages in every World Cup going back to 1994, a remarkable run of six straight. Yet in each one of those Round of 16 games – the fourth match of a tournament – Mexico lost, usually in some newly devastating way. It hopes to finally break into the quarterfinals in Russia, which would match its best-ever performances in 1970 and 1986, both in World Cups played on its home turf.
This tournament feels like something of a prime opportunity for Mexico. For once, a calm has descended over the team under the steady management of Juan Carlos Osorio. And the spine of the team of Chicharito Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera is in its prime, surrounded by a deep supporting case, and complemented by scintillating young attacking talent like Lozano and Tecatito Corona. Even the old war horse Rafa Marquez is still around at 39. The only significant issue is that the preferred central defensive pairing of Diego Reyes and Nestor Araujo is injured.
Captain Harry Kane scored twice, including an injury-time winner, as England battled to victory over Tunisia in their opening game of the World Cup.
Kane nodded home from close range in the 91st minute following Harry Maguire's flick-on from a corner, adding to his opportunistic finish in the first half in Volgograd.
Manager Gareth Southgate has instilled a feel-good factor in the side since taking over in November 2016 and England's youngest team at a World Cup since 1958 showed flashes of thrilling attacking football, although poor finishing almost proved costly.
Their speed caused Tunisia plenty of problems as Jesse Lingard had a close-range shot brilliantly saved by Mouez Hassen and Raheem Sterling scuffed a shot wide in the first five minutes.
With one normal-time minute left of their opener, England were heading for one of their most familiar stories of all: the disappointing 1-1 draw in which a strong start gave way to nerves, an equaliser, a burdened, anxious second half and ultimately an underwhelming point. Against Sweden in 2002, USA in 2010 and France in Euro 2012, we have seen this one before.
And that sorry point - two less than Belgium have - is exactly what England deserved when Kieran Trippier curled in one last corner kick in the last minute of normal time here.
But Harry Maguire won the first header and there was Kane, lurking at the far post, swiveling his body to head the ball into the only empty corner of the net. It was his second close-range goal of the game, after tapping England ahead after 11 minutes.
England had the win, the three points to keep them close to Belgium, and as the players celebrated with the fans at the end, they shared the same mix of feelings. Glee, relief, and sense that this time might be slightly different.
Russia's spot in the knockout stages can be secured tomorrow if Uruguay avoid defeat against Saudi Arabia, a result that would also seal a premature exit for Egypt.
Hector Cuper's side will have a final change to end a long wait for a World Cup victory next Monday against Saudi, while Russia will tackle Uruguay in what is likely to be a head-to-head tussle for top spot in Group A.
FIFA issued a statement on Thursday denying claims that American referee Mark Geiger asked for a player's jersey during Wednesday's match between Portugal and Morocco.
Cristiano Ronaldo continued his World Cup tear, scoring the game's only goal in a 1-0 win for Portugal. Speaking after the match to Dutch TV network NOS, Morocco winger Noureddine Amrabat made a scathing accusation that American referee Mark Geiger asked for Ronaldo's shirt at halftime. Amrabat claims he found out about it through Portuguese defender Pepe.
"What are we talking about? At the World Cup? It's not a circus here," Amrabat said after the match.