Chicharito Weeps, and Mexico Shakes

Some sporting events present themselves as horror films. Like a malign and paranormal force, the team expected to win stalks the weaker side with an air of inevitable capture. Nobody asks whether the underdog will be devoured, only when. The lesser team’s fans watch with their hands ready to hide their eyes. This was my feeling, all match, as I watched Mexico, North America’s lonely World Cup hope, in its effort against Germany, the reigning Cup champion and current favorite to repeat. The German team’s reputation—anchored in fact but kept alive, it must be said, by certain reductive national stereotypes—is for patient, sharkish precision: slip and commit just one mistake and they’ll make you pay.

This might help to explain El Tri’s plan of attack in the first half: the Mexicans played sturdy defense when the Germans were near the box but, after securing possession, pushed forward on the counterattack, led by the star forward, Javier (Chicharito) Hernández. They ran like a pack of sprinters freed from their lanes, anxious to get ahead and escape the killer’s grasp. To stay alive, they had to take risk after trotting risk. After thirty-four minutes, this strategy paid off beautifully. Chicharito galloped forward on yet another downfield jaunt—there’d been an unsuccessful one only a minute or so before—and directed a short, soft pass between two German defenders to his fellow-forward, Hirving Lozano. Lozano, left of goal, fielded the ball with his left foot, sending the ball a bit to the right, where he gave it a slight nudge, then pounded his shot past the goalie. The Mexican fans in Moscow roared, with an intensity that felt like relief as much as joy. (The fans back home were so happy that they caused a small earthquake.)

The German juggernaut had a few chances in the second half—especially a near miss in the eighty-eighth minute—each scarier than the last. The Lozano goal, cathartic as it was, felt like a prelude—to letdown, at least, and maybe to outright disaster. But then the whistle blew and the massive upset was complete. Chicharito—whose most recent club season, with the English Premier League squad West Ham, was a disappointment—fell to his knees and let his forehead drop to the grass. Some teammates helped him up, and it became clear to the cameras that the Mexican star had been sobbing—ecstatically happy, it seemed, simply to have survived.



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