Germany leaves it late, very late...

Amol Gokhale
Sunday, 24 June 2018

Defending champions stay in the hunt for Round 16 with a last-gasp 2-1 win over Sweden

The time on Polish referee Szymon Marciniak's watch read 94.39 when Toni Kroos' free-kick found the back of the net.

The Defending champions Germany left it that late to keep their fate alive in the World Cup with a 2-1 win over Sweden in their Group ‘F’ match in Sochi on Saturday night.

Just when it looked like 'The Curse of the Defending Champions' had struck Germany, the four-time champions found the winner after Marco Reus' early goal in the second-half had cancelled out Ola Toivonen's 32nd-minute strike.

Toni Kroos’ goal (94:39) is the latest winner ever scored on the World Cup Group stage. The previous record belonged to Francesco Totti, who found the net late on (94:26) against Australia in 2006.

After a shock defeat against Mexico, Germany coach Joachim Loew made changes in his playing XI on the expected lines. Under-performing stars Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil made way for Sebastian Rudy and Marco Reus. While Antonio Rudiger replaced injured Mats Hummels and Jonas Hector came in for Marvin Plattenhardt as the German backline also saw two changes.

It looked like the changes had worked as Germany peppered Sweden with a flurry of attacks forcing Robin Olsen into a number of early saves. At the end of first 10 minutes, statistics read that Germany had 122 successful passes compared to Sweden's six.

Despite putting early pressure on their opponents, 'Die Mannschaft' failed to find the back of the net as Timo Werner, Marco Reus and Julian Draxler all went close, but the team remained susceptible to counter attacks.

Marcus Berg, who pierced German backline with his perfectly timed run, had a goal at his mercy with only rushing Manuel Neuer to beat, was sandwiched between the keeper and defender Jerome Boateng, as his claims for a penalty were discarded by the Polish match official.

Jogi Loew's plans seemed to be working until Germany literally suffered a bloody blow in their face. Midfielder Rudy, who replaced Khedira, went for a tackle and a trailing leg of a Swedish player caught him in the face accidentally. The blow caused Bayern Munich man to break his nose and forcing Germany to play nearly five-minutes with 10-men until Ilkay Guendogan came on.

Germany, unable to shake off the literal bloody blow they suffered, then conceded in a similar manner as they did in the first game. Real Madrid's ever-reliable Kroos gave away the ball in his own half and Sweden pounced, with a swift counter.

Viktor Claesson lifted the ball over German backline and found Ola Toivonen on the edge of the box, who chested it to control and amidst pressure from Rudiger, chipped it over Germany No. 1 Neuer's head to send Swedish fans into a frenzy at the Fisht Stadium.

The Group ‘F’ point table at that point showed that the defending champions were heading for their earliest exit from the tournament before Olsen was forced into a double save from shots by Guendogan and Thomas Mueller to keep Germany trailing at the breather.

After half-time, Germany brought on striker Mario Gomez to give them aerial superiority and target in the box but the equaliser came in the unlikeliest manner, a scrappy goal to say.

Striker Werner, now moved on the left flank, darted down and crossed around six-yard box, after missing several German and Swede players, until his cross was met by Reus, whose clumsy shot found the back of the net after the ball ricocheted off his knee, three minutes into the second-half. Germany were back in the game.

Now, back on level, defending champions searched for the winner, that would keep their World Cup fate in their own hands. Just like the first-half, they kept bombarding Swedish area, wave after wave, without much luck as Gomez and Werner fired wide; Mueller looked like he had forgotten his scoring boots while Reus, too was off the mark.

The matters turned ugly for Loew's men when defender Boateng, who was cautioned in the 71st minute was given his marching orders in the 81st minute for a reckless challenge on Berg. Down to 10-men, Neuer came to the rescue of his side from a resulting free-kick with a fumbling punch that snatched away a chance of scoring a sitter from Sweden's substitute John Guidetti.

For the final few minutes, Loew brought on Julian Brandt and the winger found his shot going wide off the post in the 90th minute for the second consecutive game as it looked the defending champions did not have that little bit of luck on their side, but it was.

After Guidetti fired a tame shot at Neuer in the stoppage time, Germany broke down the left flank with Werner, who was brought down on the edge of the box.

Toni Kroos stepped up along with Reus to take the free kick. Kroos, three-time Champions league winner, rolled the ball at Reus' feet, who stopped it to give his team-mate a better angle, and Kroos just fired a missile into the far top corner beyond the reach of Olsen to send German bench into euphoria. Germany had survived a scare.

The defending champions had in-fact left it late, very late.

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