I don’t know if watching Mexico play can be considered fun.
It is an uncertain and terrifying experience, more than anything else. Yes, there is jubilation after they win. But more than joy, what you feel is a sense of relief — relief that the suffering you just experienced is finally over. Well, until they play again.
Before this World Cup began, I had given up meat, looking to clean up my diet. I woke up before the Germany - Mexico game, ate a pear and drank a bottle of ice cold water. Then I went back to my bed, laid around with my cat and listened to some music. The morning was peaceful. Everything was right with the world.
By the final minutes of the game, when the Mexican players were exhausted, falling over themselves and giving the ball back to Germany in their defensive third, Germany routinely peppering Guillermo Ochoa’s goal shots, I was stress-eating a box of chicken tenders and praying to God and the gods, both old and new. I don’t know where the tenders came from, I can only assume that the divine beings answered my pleas for some comfort.
When Julian Brandt’s shot skimmed the side of the post in the 88th minute, I screamed “I DON’T DESERVE THIS! DON’T DO THIS TO ME!” at my computer screen.
Mexico are entirely capable of beating a team like Germany. They ran Germany off the pitch in the first half, pressing, tackling, passing and dribbling as if the world champions were a CONCACAF minnow. At the same time, Mexico will miss so many chances, screw up so many attacks, attacks where their forwards out-number German defenders. They do everything right, and then somehow collapse spectacularly in the final third.
The chance that broke me was when Javier Hernández and Carlos Vela were running to goal with one defender between them. There was a second defender recovering behind and to the inside of Vela, but he was too far off to stop the attack. When Hernández and Vela got into the box, the defender between them committed to Hernández to prevent a shot. All Hernández had to do was to pass it to Vela on his left. Which he tried, but his pass was too far ahead of his teammate. Vela stretched but couldn’t reach it and one of the best chances in the game was gone without a shot being registered.
That Hernández and Vela chance wasn’t the worst missed opportunity, but it was typical of everything that Mexico did in the game. It wasn’t that Germany were stopping them, it was that Mexico were being wasteful.
Yet, that feeling of frustration is balanced by one of understanding and gratefulness. Mexico were beating Germany. The same players that could waste a six vs. one counterattack played a perfect sequence to get the first goal.
The youngster puts it away!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 17, 2018
Chicharito starts the counterattack and Chucky Lozano finishes it to give Mexico the 1-0 lead. pic.twitter.com/Ze5IUJuE3d
After winning the ball back in their defensive third, an outlet pass found Javier Hernández right under the center circle. Hernández played a one-two around the closing Mat Hummels, which left him in acres of space against the last defender, Jerome Boateng. At the same time Hirving Lozano was speeding down the left wing. The same Hernández who would miss the pass to Vela later, and who had been swinging wildly at shots and falling over himself when it was time to make a critical decision, sent a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Lozano.
It took only a touch to the inside for Lozano to beat Mesut Ozil, and another to balance himself before beating Manuel Neuer at the near post.
Mexico is Forrest Gump-ian in their “box of chocolates” unpredictability. You can come in expecting a great performance in the Copa America quarterfinals and leave stunned after a 0-7 defeat to Chile. Or you can come in hoping that they just put up a fight against Germany, and be surprised by a one-nil in a game where Mexico could have scored six.
This is what it is to watch and root for Mexico — it’s absurd, excruciating, exciting and perfect. It captures the essence of what the team is. They’re perpetually on the verge of collapse and greatness. They can always surprise you. You just don’t know if that’s going to be a good or bad thing.