Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio credited his team's "love of winning" for the World Cup's biggest upset so far, Sunday's 1-0 victory over Germany. It was hardly the type of love being discussed in regard to El Tri in the weeks leading up to the tournament.
As anticipation among the people of Mexico built earlier this month, a controversial sex story radically changed the discussion—and left a nation in fear that its national team players were more interested in what they could do with their private parts than their feet.
Talk of team tactics and exciting young players who could take the tournament by surprise were suddenly muted. Gossip magazine TV Notas revealed photographs and details of how eight members of the squad had attended a party with escorts in Mexico City following a 1-0 warm-up victory over Scotland. It was a scandal.
"People took it very badly and criticized the players," journalist Alonso Cabral of Televisa Deportes told Bleacher Report. "It did not matter that it was their day off; they did something that was not right, especially two weeks before the World Cup."
FC Porto midfielder Hector Herrera, Benfica striker Raul Jimenez and Giovani dos Santos of the LA Galaxy were among those named, as information leaked that they "partied for 24 hours with 30 escorts," per Gerard Couzens of the Daily Mail.
"Some people said [players involved] should be punished by not going to the World Cup," Cabral said. "They got involved with escorts and hookers. Most of them have families and are married men. Hector Herrera had to fly from Denmark to Portugal, where his wife lives, so he could talk with her. That wasn't good for the team."
News outlets around the globe picked up on the news, but the players were not punished. Guillermo Cantu of the Mexican Football Federation explained the decision: "A free day is a free day, and those are the risks that one runs with freedom."
The explanation was little solace to those who felt the scandal threatened their plans—at least until the team kicked off in Moscow and all negatives were pushed aside. El Tri played as a unit, a true team, and produced a brilliant performance and shocking result over the tournament's defending champion.
The pride was back in the shirt. The sex headlines replaced by the ecstasy of the achievement and Chucky Lozano's stroke of magic.
And the twist? That team Mexico upset received the opposite news coverage prior to the Cup, having banned its players from having sex while on duty.
That brings us to the question: How much sex should footballers be having when they are preparing to play and performing on the game's biggest stage? Is it a harmful distraction or perhaps a positive one? And how do their bosses keep it under control?
As Brazil striker Gabriel Jesus set his focus on leading the line at his first World Cup, he received a key piece of advice, per David Rivers of the Daily Star.
"Have enough sex," he was told by Romario, one of the greatest Brazilian goalscorers of all time.
Romario added that Jesus should also concentrate on matches and scoring goals, but the obvious headline reverberated around the world. Now, if you type "Gabriel Jesus, sex, goals" into a Google search, you will see thousands of articles—despite the player having never spoken on the subject.
Brazil is a nation with a lot of history in the area of sex at major tournaments.
Even back in 1958, it was on the mind of team bosses that their players could lose focus as they headed to Sweden for the sport's ultimate tournament. As described in Love, Sex and Betrayal in Cups by Leonardo Bertozzi and Gustavo Hofman, officials requested that all 28 women working at their hotel base be replaced by men, so as to not distract the players.
But their plan did not work. The local women still caught the eye of star men such as Garrincha, who would reportedly disappear into the nearby woods for liaisons.
At pretty much every tournament since, coaches have been quizzed on their teams' sex stances.
Some decide to take sex off the table completely, such as Phil Scolari in 2002. He felt there was no need for wives and girlfriends to visit the hotel, as his players should be able to abstain for 50 days at the tournament. "No one will die if they go without sex," he said, according the book by Bertozzi and Hofman. The rule seemingly paid off, as Brazil won the World Cup that year.
And this year? Jesus and his teammates are able to get a bit of nookie, if they so wish.
Team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar has scheduled times when meetups with partners are allowed, per newspaper Extra (via Sputnik). All are on non-match days; on match days, players are expected to focus their energy on matters on the field.
"There are people on both sides of the argument on whether or not sexual activity will impact your athletic performance," sexologist Megan Stubbs explained to B/R. "There are superstitions like you have to abstain the night before or don't shave your beard or always wear your lucky socks. I'd say that it's perfectly fine to have sex before a game. Belief in the idea that sex before a game will drain your essence isn't rooted in any hard facts.
"Sex has been shown to have many health benefits such as boosting mood, increased level of pain tolerance and confidence, so when applied to a soccer player, I can only imagine that it would be a bonus to have added to their athletic prowess. As long as it isn't a marathon sex session and nothing wild with an increased risk of injury, I think sex before a game is great."
Romario would no doubt agree, but not every player has the same needs as the legendary Brazilian, who said he once had sex four hours before a game and also once on a plane while flying with the squad in Switzerland.
"Romario was a flamboyant character, a ladies' man. He would happily escape from team hotels to have sex adventures," Bertozzi explained. "But Gabriel Jesus is very private, seen as a family boy, and lots of advertising bits about him focus on his special relation with his mother.
"His famous "Alo Mae" (Hello Mom) celebration, when he simulates to be calling her with his hand, is his trademark, and companies love this image. Of course, we cannot know everything Jesus does in private and what he will do on his days off, but he sure knows this family-boy image has to be kept because it is good for business."
There are two main viewpoints over whether sex ahead of a major sporting occasion is beneficial, as Brazilian sexologist Regina Navarro discussed in an article with Sputnik. "There is research suggesting that for semen to form a great deal of male energy is spent, which makes men sluggish and sleepy," she says.
But she continues: "There is other research that demonstrates that sex to a great deal raises one's spirits, rendering them bold; good sex makes you more brave and inspired."
Dating coach and relationship expert Hayley Quinn told B/R: "A lot of these examples at the World Cup also seem to fit cultural stereotypes over what is and is not acceptable, depending on where you are from.
"But the crux is that an orgasm can be viewed as a release, or the alternative is to keep your aggression and potency within you. There is also the issue of having career focus against the distraction of commitment. But it would depend on the quality of any relationship too. Overall, it seems a version of masculinity we are trying to move away from, our footballers continue to live up to."
It's not just sex with a partner that matters, though, as masturbation also cropped up as a discussion point ahead of the World Cup.
Vera Ribeiro is the wife of Rui Patricio, the Portugal goalkeeper, and is a sex therapist. She recently launched a new book, Manual of Seduction, which has 240 pages on games and techniques aimed at providing pleasure.
She used the platform of her latest release to reveal why she thinks players should not refrain from self-aid at the tournament.
"Obviously, the psychological, sentimental and well-being that sex promotes, the fact of being balanced at that level, will bring positive aspects to [the player's] performance," she said on Portuguese TV, via Nacional. "When we talk about forced abstinence, when they say they cannot be with a woman, this is nonsense and nothing positive."
And when asked about whether players would benefit from masturbating while away, she said: "You can get benefits—better sleep, better rest. Cortisol levels are more controlled, and that will have better results in stress and anxiety."
Just how much sexual activity will go on at this World Cup, we can't know. For now, anyway.
"It is fair to believe there are tons of stories never to become public," Bertozzi explained. "Some of the stories on our book only became known many years after, from biographies, interviews, things like that. Of course, sometimes it is not well-hidden, and it makes news headlines—just like what has happened with Mexico players and their escorts party. Can you tell for sure it does not happen in other squads? Of course not.
"So I believe we still know only a small part of World Cup sex stories."