Sunday 18 November 2018

Kroos drags Germany back from the brink

Germany 2 Sweden 1

Germany's Toni Kroos celebrates scoring their winning goal. Photo: Michael Dalder/Reuters
Germany's Toni Kroos celebrates scoring their winning goal. Photo: Michael Dalder/Reuters

David Hytner

Joachim Löw had been asked about the curse of world champions past. Three of the previous four World Cup winners had exited at the group phase - France (2002), Italy (2010), Spain (2014) - and the Germany manager knew that his team stood to be the next. This was pretty much win or bust for Germany, a team groping with unfamiliar uncertainties, and they threw everything they had at Sweden during a wild night in what was arguably the game of the tournament.

The game looked up for Löw and his players when Jérôme Boateng leapt into a reckless tackle on Marcus Berg as the clock ticked down to incur a second yellow card - a draw here would have left the Germans on the brink of elimination.

But the 10 men refused to wilt and, after substitute Julian Brandt had rattled the post from distance, Toni Kroos summoned a stunning late twist when he bent a brilliant free-kick that had been touched back to him by Marco Reus into the far corner. Sweden were broken at the end. They had led through Ola Toivonen and called the tune in the first half. But the second half belonged to Germany and they squeezed home in the most dramatic fashion.

The pressure was on Germany and it was ratcheted up a couple of extra notches when Mexico defeated South Korea earlier in the day. With his back pressed to the wall and after days of savage criticism, Löw made four changes - two of them particularly eye-catching. Out went Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil, in came defensive-minded midfielder Sebastian Rudy and Marco Reus. Rudy would be forced off on the half-hour after he was caught in the face by a trailing boot from Toivonen.

Germany's Joshua Kimmich beats Sweden's Emil Forsberg. Photo: Francois Lenoir/Reuters
Germany's Joshua Kimmich beats Sweden's Emil Forsberg. Photo: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

The worry for Löw was how threatening Sweden came to look on the counterattack and how easily they carved apart his team. It was extraordinary to see a German defence in such open and obliging mood. The game could have been over at the interval.

First, there was controversy when Marcus Berg ran clean through and reached the ball before the advancing Manuel Neuer. Boateng gave chase and, as Berg shaped to shoot inside the area, the defender shoved him and appeared to trip him. The referee ruled it was no penalty, which was a baffling decision, and nor was there any intervention from the video assistants. Don't mention the VAR.

Sweden could feel aggrieved. They took the lead after Kroos gave the ball away and Viktor Claesson crossed for Toivonen. The striker took an excellent first touch on his chest and the second was even better - a glorious lob that gave Neuer no chance.

The question was whether Sweden would live to regret their failure to punish Germany further, and they felt the sucker-punch at the beginning of the second half. Löw had tweaked again, sending on the big No 9, Mario Gomez, and Germany emerged with vigour Timo Werner, who was moved to the left, set up the equaliser with a low cross that Reus bundled home in slightly untidy fashion.

It was breathless stuff and it was all Germany. They laid siege to the Swedish goal. The sting in the tale was late to come.

Observer

Germany's Mario Gomez in action with Sweden's Andreas Granqvist. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Germany's Mario Gomez in action with Sweden's Andreas Granqvist. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

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