MOSCOW, June 23, 2018 – Germany have capitalised on matches against Sweden in the past to put their stumbling World Cup campaigns back on track. But never quite as desperately or as late as they managed here in Russia in Sochi.
The World Cup holders appeared down and out, as risk of emulating France in 2002, Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014 as defending champions knocked out in the first round. Yet somehow they kept on battling and believing to set up a dramatic Group Finale next Wednesday.
A stunning goal from Toulouse forward Ola Toivonen handed Sweden a first-half advantage only for Marco Reus to level three minutes after the interval and Toni Kroos to snatch a stoppage-time winner. Victory over South Korea in Kazan next Wednesday will see Germany into the knockout stage unless Sweden, simultaneously, manage to beat table-topping Mexico.
Twice before in World Cup history Germany have rescued their campaigns with victories over Sweden.
Once was in the 1966 qualifiers when West Germany won crucially in Stockholm after gambling in attack on the barely-fit Uwe Seeler and in midfield on the youthful new Bayern Munich midfielder Franz Beckenbauer.
Eight years later, in front of their own fans, West Germany beat Sweden 4-2 in Dusseldorf in a second round tie to rescue their campaign after a 1-0 defeat by East Germany. They went on, ultimately, to beat Holland in the final.
Now they managed the trick yet again. But it was desperately nerve-shredding and the Germans were hardly impressive. They made up with spirit and belief what they lacked in cohesion and organisation.
Germany, after their opening defeat by Mexico, knew they had to win. Julian Draxler and Timo Werner went cose in the opening minutes but Sweden sounded a warning when Magnus Berg was foiled on the counter attack only by the speedy advance of Manuel Neuer.
Germany’s goalkeeper-captain was left helpless just after the halfhour, however, as Toivonen chested down a through ball from Viktor Claesson and lobbed Sweden into the lead.
Mario Gomez replaced Julian Draxler at half-time and within three minutes Germany were level as a Timo Werner cross ricocheted in off Marco Reus’s knee.
Kroos had a free kick deflected wide and Thomas Muller headed wide but maintaining the siege grew more complicated after Germany were reduced to 10 men by the expulsion of Jerome Boateng for a second yellow card.
Still they had a little time and a lot of belief.
Gomez saw a close-range header brilliantly punched over the bar by keeper Robin Olsen and late substitute Julian Brandts hit a post before Kroos curled a touch-back from his free kick into the far corner.
Germany were back on track.
Earlier Mexico had taken a secured their place in the second round by defeating South Korea 2-1 in Rostov-on-Don.
Korea contributed the finest goal of the clash, delivered with an angled 30-metre drive from Tottenham’s Heung-min Son, but it came in the third minute of second-half stoppage time and was thus no more than a consolation effort.
By that point Mexico were in secure command courtesy of a first-half penalty from Carlos Vela and a second-half counter-attacking strike from Javier Chicharito Hernandez, the official man of the match.
The day’s top scorers were Belgium who beat Tunisia 5-2 in an entertaining Group G match in Moscow Spartak with two goals apiece from Romelu Lukaku and captain Eden Hazard. Confirmation of the Red Devils’ progress to the second round and Tunisia’s exit are dependent on the clash between England and Panama.