Defending World Cup champions Germany were moments away from a second successive disappointing result and one that would’ve left them teetering on the edge of elimination before the knockout rounds had even begun — a fate not at all dissimilar to three of the four previous champions as well. Down to ten men and facing the prospect of a 1-1 draw and thus third place in the group heading into the final matchday, one could already see the inquest starting into every one of Jogi Löw’s decisions, as if they were a nose-booger ready to be fondled on all sides before being summarily disposed of.
But Die Mannschaft, changed as it may be from four years ago, are made of sterner stuff than that. Up stepped Toni Kroos and Marco Reus to a wide-angle free kick, and with the Swedish wall sluggish to move, magicked in a 95th-minute winner. It was the fitting, jaw-dropping final note on what had been one of the most entertaining matches of the 2018 World Cup thus far.
It was a stunning turnaround both for the team and Kroos himself, who gave the ball away for Sweden’s opening goal at the half-hour mark. While Germany controlled the vast majority of possession throughout the game, the first-half belonged to the Swedes, who repeatedly carved open the German midfield and defence (and probably should’ve had a penalty, too).
xG map for #GER-#SWE. A brilliant late free kick after a long period of pressure got #GER the result, but it's hard to say anyone's questions about this team have been answered. pic.twitter.com/vFsK1qBwT7— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) June 23, 2018
It was a pattern of play not at all dissimilar to how Germany lost to Mexico in their first game, despite Löw shuffling his pack and making four changes. Özil, Khedira, Hummels, and Plattenhardt were all dropped, replaced by Reus, Rudy (then Gundogan after Rudy broke his nose), Rüdiger, and the fit again Jonas Hector, respectively.
Trailing at the half, Löw introduced Mario Gomez and Germany poured forward with increasing desperation. The equalizer, through Reus, arrived quickly, but they needed all three points. Boateng got himself sent off with ten minutes to go, which prompted another attacking change (Brandt for Hector), leaving Antonio Rüdiger to fend for himself in defence. And somehow it worked!
With the win, Germany not only stay alive, but they keep everyone in the group alive as well. They will still have to beat South Korea on Wednesday, while group leaders Mexico, who did just that yesterday, will now have to play for at least a draw against Sweden.