Germany 2 Sweden 1
After so much criticism, so much abuse, and the very unusual feeling of actually losing a match, Germany’s last-gasp victory over Sweden has suddenly re-ignited belief within Joachim Low’s squad that they might actually defend their title in Russia.
Toni Kroos’ 95th-minute strike to seal a 2-1 victory over the Swedes in Sochi on Saturday not only rescued Germany from the brink of elimination but changed the entire dynamic in what has been a hugely complicated and difficult camp over the last week.
Ever since Germany, by their own admission, took their eye off the ball and took victory over Mexico for granted in the opening game in Group F, there has been the kind of media mayhem usually reserved for an England or Netherlands meltdown.
It led to Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil being dropped for the Sweden game along with midfield partner Sami Khedira; and it may be a long way back for both men considering neither made it off the bench in Sochi.
But the mental strength and spirit shown by the world champions in coming from 1-0 down to beat a gutsy Sweden side in such dramatic fashion has added to the ‘us against the world’ mentality which may well prove crucial in Germany’s title bid.
“With that sort of fighting spirit, we deserve to reach the final,” insisted Real Madrid attacking midfielder Kross.
“The important thing now is to beat South Korea and start being at our best from the first minute of every game.
“It was a tough match against Sweden and we suffered, but that’s normal if you don’t score an early goal. It was difficult. But now of course we’re happy with the victory and we’ll go on from here.”
It is certainly possible that Germany’s victory has released the inner tension that threatened to hold them back and increased morale at a time when it appeared to be lacking.
What it can’t do, however, is heal a rift with German media that threatens to become increasingly uncomfortable.
“It makes me feel like it’s much more fun for people to write badly about us,” said Kroos, looking back on the headlines of the last week since a 1-0 defeat against Mexico catapulted his nation into despair and anger.
“We get no help from all those who write, analyse, accuse us of bad body language. But nobody will ‘write us a title’. It all has to come from us.”
Team-mate Joshua Kimmich summed it up rather nicely by saying: “The country is behind us. But the press is critical.”
But Germany are now beginning to see that less as a negative and more as a challenge. Bayern defender Mats Hummels believes his team’s 95th-minute winner could be the turning point that inspires Germany to back-to-back World Cups.
Hummels, who missed the game with a neck injury but who hopes to play against South Korea in the final group game on Wednesday, said: “It wasn’t a perfect performance but from an emotional side, that late goal was a very, very good thing for us.
“It gives us a feeling we can improve, we can get better. We know that if we had lost we could have come in for a lot of criticism. Hopefully now we can move on.
“Could that be the moment we look back on later, the moment when things changed and helped us win the World Cup? Of course. Something like this can have a big impact.
“But we cannot get carried away. If we go and make mistakes against South Korea in the next game it means nothing.
“It was a good result, an important goal and an important moment. But now we have to go out and prove that we can be way better. We’ll need to do that if we want to win this tournament — which we do.”
To get through the group is a little more complicated than it looks at first glance. Germany currently hold second place, ahead of Sweden who also have three points, but all four teams can still qualify.
Germany can guarantee a place in the last 16 if they draw with or defeat South Korea — and Mexico beat Sweden. But if the Swedes also win it gets more complicated. If teams are tied it goes first to goal difference, then to goals scored, then to the records between the teams that are tied, and finally to ‘fair play’ points based on how many yellow and red cards have been issued.
Given Jerome Boateng was sent off against Sweden, that isn’t such good news for Low’s team, who haven’t gone out in the group stage of a major tournament since 1938.
“All we can do is focus on South Korea,” Hummels said. “And on making sure our performance improves again.”
As for Sweden, it’s easy to forget that they are also in a strong position to qualify despite the disappointment of Kroos’s goal.
Midfielder Seb Larsson said: “By no means are we out of it. At the moment we feel bad — it’s difficult to think about a defeat that hurts more than this.
“But we are still in it and one win puts us through. One thing I can promise everyone is that you will see Sweden giving absolutely everything.
“We know we are capable of winning matches against good teams like Mexico. We believe in what we are doing.”
GERMANY: Neuer, Kimmich, Rudiger, Boateng, Hector (Brandt 87), Rudy (Gundogan 31), Kroos, Muller, Draxler (Gomez 46), Reus, Werner.
SWEDEN: Olsen, Lustig, Lindelof, Granqvist, Augustinsson, Claesson (Durmaz 74), Larsson, Ekdal, Forsberg, Berg (Thelin 90), Toivonen (Guidetti 78).
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland).
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