"You have to play for the love of winning and not the fear of losing." It's a phrase Juan Carlos Osorio uttered Saturday at his prematch news conference, though it didn't exactly come off the top of his head. The same saying can be found on one of the motivational t-shirts he's taken to wearing on casual days.
His Mexico side took it to heart Sunday, going after the reigning champion of the world and coming away with a 1-0 victory at Luzhniki Stadium thanks to a 35th-minute goal from Hirving Lozano.
There are teams that come into the World Cup to sit back and defend, and that can work - as Iceland displayed Saturday with its result against Argentina. Osorio said Mexico wouldn't be one of those teams. Not this time around.
"We’re going to try and play and attack against anybody, regardless of how big a team they are, and try to win games by playing without fear," Osorio told Goal before the tournament started. "In the past [for Mexico in World Cups] I think the idea was to not concede goals and see what happens at the end.
"That’s fair, and fine, but this time around we will try to be more offensive-minded and more driven towards winning games rather than just waiting until the end and seeing what happens."
Osorio's plans have been criticized by many, with the team booed off the field after their 1-0 friendly victory against Scotland in the Estadio Azteca. Osorio has been under relentless criticism, criticism that has reached the ears of the players as well.
"The truth is that we've taken that all on calmly and serenely, but there's the result from Prof Osorio for all the people," Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez said.
Osorio can be proud of his plan paying off. Mexico was free on the counterattack over and over, with Carlos Vela connecting the defenders to attackers Chicharito and Lozano. It's a historic win, but honestly, it should've been more for El Tri. There were opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net in the 10th minute to open the scoring and Chicharito and Vela screwed up a breakaway in the 57th inute that would've killed off the game and made the final half-hour that less nervewracking for Osorio and Mexico fans.
The goal came on a break Mexico nearly wasted but finished off by potential breakout World Cup star Lozano . The move was a picture of perfection. Mexico won the ball back and snapped a pass upfield to Chicharito.
With his back to goal, Chicharito knocked the ball to Andres Guardado and took off on a run. The midfielder slipped it back through to Chicharito before Lozano darted into the picture on the left side of attack. Lozano cut back onto his right foot and put his shot past Manuel Neur at the final moment before another defender arrived.
It was performance without fear from Mexico, which executed the game plan Osorio set out for them. Missing first-choice defenders Diego Reyes and Nestor Araujo, Jesus Gallardo made his World Cup debut at left back and hardly looked like the converted winger he is. Edson Alvarez also made his World Cup debut, with the 20-year-old entering as a second-half substitute to help see out the result.
"You don’t know all the work that’s behind this. The manager took time analyzing Germany, every change, every little thing was planned," Alvarez said. "So, you also have to hand it to him and those that deserve it and we’ll just carry out his plan."
Hugo Ayala put in a close approximation of Araujo, with a crucial intervention in the 56th minute the finest moment of a solid night for the Tigres center back. Even Rafa Marquez came in and did his part, in a tournament where he seemed shoehorned into the squad .
The victory opens things up for El Tri - a team desperate to break out of its hex and get into the quarterfinals for the first time on foreign soil. With results in the next two games, El Tri could not only advance out of the group but win the whole thing, and likely avoid a round of 16 showdown with one of the tournament's favorites in Brazil.
That's not a given (nor is Brazil winning its group), but Mexico showed Sunday that it will go into the next two group matches and whatever is to come after them without fear.
The victory Sunday had to feel incredible, with so many fans here cheering them on. That will teach Mexico's players to love the feeling of winning far more than Osorio repeating a mantra ever could.