Toni Kroos brings off late miracle for Germany to stun Sweden
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 his team stood to be the next. After the debacle that had been the defeat against Mexico in the opening Group F tie, the pressure was on. It pulsed against German temples because everybody knew that Sweden were likely to be a tough nut to crack. Their goalkeeper, Robin Olsen, had entered the game having not conceded since October last year.
It was pretty much win or bust for Germany because even a draw would have left them without control of their destiny in the final round of group matches. On a wild night, they once again showed their defensive frailties and it was a glaring example of their indiscipline when Jérôme Boateng, who had been booked, leapt into a reckless 85th-minute tackle on Marcus Berg to leave his team with 10 men.
But at the other end, they attacked with abandon during a thrilling second half and, with 18 seconds of the five minutes of stoppage time remaining, they got their reward, their reprieve. The angle to the left of the penalty area looked to be too tight for Toni Kroos as he stood over a free-kick. But he made it slightly better by touching the ball to Marco Reus, who gave it back and what happened next was a contender for goal of the tournament.
Kroos’s technique was flawless, the bend on the shot wicked and it fizzed beyond Olsen into the far, top corner. Germany roared; Sweden were broken, even though a win over Mexico in their final game would see them qualify, and there were angry scenes upon the full-time whistle, as the rival benches clashed.
“Some of the German bench celebrated by running in our direction and rubbing it into our faces by making gestures and that really got me annoyed,” Janne Andersson, the Sweden manager, said. “We fight it out for 95 minutes and then you shake it out and leave so I was very angry. People behaved in ways that you do not do. This is probably the most crushing end to a game I’ve experienced.”
It was a result that got away from Sweden because, make no mistake, they could have been home and hosed at the interval, after a first half in which they scored through Ola Toivonen and might have had more. There was the highly contentious decision on 12 minutes not to award them a penalty after Boateng had pushed Berg when he was the last man, which looked to be the wrong call and the impression would only be strengthened with each TV replay. Don’t mention the VAR. The video assistants did not come into play.
Löw was brave and fortune favoured him. He had made four changes from the Mexico game – the most eye-catching of which were the omissions of Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil – and he lost the former’s replacement, Sebastian Rudy, to a broken nose after half an hour. Rudy was bloodied after being caught, inadvertently, by Toivonen.
Löw introduced Mario Gomez for the second half, with Timo Werner moving to the left wing and Thomas Müller pushing up as a second striker, and he and his players threw everything into the salvage operation. The sense of adventure was pronounced.
Jonas Hector, the left-back, wandered into an inside-forward position at times and Löw’s final move in the 87th minute was dramatic. He withdrew Hector, despite being a man down, and sent on the attacking midfielder Julian Brandt, who promptly rattled a post with a ferocious drive. Joshua Kimmich and Antonio Rüdiger were the only recognised defenders on the pitch at the end. Thanks to Kroos, the gamble paid off.
Kroos had been the villain for Germany in the first half. He gave the ball away, uncharacteristically, to Berg and, when it was worked wide, 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 Manuel Neuer no chance.
Germany played on the front foot but the worry for Löw was how threatening Sweden looked in the first half on the counterattack; how easily they carved apart his team. It was extraordinary to see a German defence in such open and obliging mood.
The penalty controversy followed a simple pass that set Berg clean through – the chasing Boateng not only shoved him, he also appeared to trip him – and when Emil Forsberg drove an opening on 44 minutes, he had two yellow shirts in glorious positions. Where were the defenders? He picked out Claesson but he decided against the first time shot, which was a bad move. Hector got across to tackle. Berg also worked Neuer with a glancing header.
Germany had gone close early on through Julian Draxler and Hector while the substitute Ilkay Gündogan extended Olsen with a deflected long-ranger but they were a different team after half-time.
Reus, who more than justified his selection ahead of Özil, got the equaliser from Werner’s cross and it was all Germany. Reus could not flick home with a trailing leg from Kimmich’s lovely cross; Werner lifted high; and, after Andreas Granqvist had extended Neuer at the other end, the 10 men almost snatched it only for Olsen to tip over from Gomez’s header. The sting in the tale was still to come.
Ref sees red…..Boateng send off