U.S. Coach, Mexico Are History
There is a German word that has no equivalent in English, a term that perfectly describes how Germany, which has always been considered machine-like in its soccer efficiency, but soul-less, has infused technical excellence with human desire.
“We say ‘Willenskraft,’ ” German Coach Berti Vogts said. “If you want to win, you will. It is your mind and your body working together to make it possible.”
The Germans’ indomitable will gave new firmness to legs that had grown rubbery in fierce heat and under the equally fierce challenge posed by Mexico in their 2-1 victory in a round-of-16 game here Monday.
That marriage of perseverance and precision was highlighted when Jurgen Klinsmann lifted a shot over a diving Jorge Campos in the 75th minute and Oliver Bierhoff leaped high above a crowd of Mexican defenders to score on a header in the 86th minute, carrying Germany to a berth in the quarterfinals.
On Saturday in Lyon, Germany will play the winner of today’s game between Croatia and Romania.
“I don’t want to go through another difficult day like this was today,” Vogts said, with a weary smile.
Mexico made it tough with rugged tackling and the superb goalkeeping of Campos, whose tiny frame belies his massive presence. In the 38th minute of the scoreless first half, he made a brilliant and acrobatic save on a left-footed blast by Michael Tarnat, tipping it away with a flick of his wrist to keep underdog Mexico’s hopes alive.
But Campos alone was not enough, even though Mexico scored first, for the only time in its four matches here.
Nimble footwork in the box by striker Luis Hernandez, who had gotten a pass from Cuauhtemoc Blanco, paid off in the 47th minute. And Mexico almost pulled away to a 2-0 lead in the 62nd minute, but Jesus Arellano’s long shot deflected off the hand of goalkeeper Andreas Kopke and hit the left post.
“We were fighting with all our strength and we scored, and I thought we would win and that we would score that second goal,” Mexican Coach Manuel Lapuente said.
It never happened. And Germany was as relentless as the southern French sun, which drove temperatures up to nearly 100 degrees.
“We were winning, but Germany was coming back all the time,” Campos said. “They are a great team.”
The Germans pulled even when Klinsmann, dangerous as always in the box, pounced on a long cross from Dietmar Hamann that might have been targeted for Bierhoff but glanced off Bierhoff’s back. The ball was in the feet of Mexican defender Raul Lara, but Lara couldn’t clear it and Klinsmann got behind him, scoring on a sliding shot.
“We tried to put a lot of pressure on the Mexican team in the first half,” Klinsmann said. “I think we were technically better. In the second half, the goal for Mexico came as a shock, but we had spirit and kept fighting. . . . After 1-0, we continued to have hope and apply pressure. I was always optimistic.”
Bierhoff, sandwiched by a couple of defenders, scored the decisive goal by out-jumping Lara, then heading the ball just inside the right post.
“Even if we go behind, 1-0, we are still attacking,” Bierhoff said.
It was more attack than Mexico could handle, game though the Mexican team was to get into the quarterfinals and silence its many critics. “I’m extremely proud of the Mexican team today,” said Hernandez, who finished the tournament with four goals and erased his old image of perhaps being lazy or not team-oriented.
“The message I have for the Mexican people is they should trust us. Those who don’t trust us should know we did our best today and I am proud of what we did against the German team.”
Said Vogts: “I must congratulate and compliment the Mexican team. They played with a lot of passion. They were absolutely exceptional. I played against Mexico and I have rarely seen as much passion.”
Their foremost emotion afterward, however, was regret.
“I feel more sad,” Campos said. “I thought Mexico could go past another round. But that’s football. Sometimes you are losing, sometimes you are winning. . . . We weren’t among the favorites at the start of the competition but from now on, Mexico will have a new image. We have shown that we can play to a high standard.”
Germany, however, reached a higher standard. And its best, Klinsmann said, may yet be to come. “I can say we’re really pleased with the performance today,” he said. “If we keep playing this way, we will be unbeatable.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
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