Germany’s World Cup title defence seemed to be in tatters until Toni Kroos’ late winner earned a 2-1 win against Sweden in Group F on Saturday.
Despite Joachim Low’s side dominating possession, Ola Toivonen gave the Swedes a shock lead in the 32nd minute at the Fisht Olympic Stadium.
Marco Reus then equalised three minutes into the second half but a winner did not seem forthcoming while Jerome Boateng’s sending off for a second booking in the 82nd minute only compounded their misery.
However, Kroos redeemed himself for his part in Sweden’s goal by scoring spectacularly from a free-kick deep into stoppage time.
Here’s a look at some of the key talking points from the encounter.
LESSONS NOT LEARNED
Germany had over 70 per cent of possession in the first half but Sweden always looked the more threatening of the two sides as they managed to muster four shots to their opponents’ seven. While Low’s side dominated the ball, the Swedes were more than happy to sit back and allow the passing to go on in front of them, restricting the reigning World Cup champions to shots from range.
Meanwhile, every time Germany relinquished possession, Janne Andersson’s side posed a real threat on the counter, one that they really shouldn’t have even been capable of. The Sweden team is almost entirely devoid of speed with Emil Forsberg the only forward runner capable of a decent turn of pace. Yet, Germany’s lack of protection at the back left them vulnerable as it only required a basic high press and straightforward direct play to leave Manuel Neuer exposed.
Low’s side pushed higher and higher up the pitch in possession, failing to heed the vast green abyss behind them. Clearly their shock defeat to Mexico wasn’t quite the wake-up call it should’ve been. As soon as they lost the ball, their centre-backs were immediately under pressure and perhaps it isn’t surprising then that Jerome Boateng was left to make a few desperate interventions and was eventually sent off for two bookings in the bargain.
Going forward in this tournament, the holders are going to have to address their palpable vulnerability to the counter-attack, particularly against tougher opposition. So far, they seem to have undermined the attacking quality of their opponents.
Sweden were never expected to get a victory against Germany but having taken the lead and then conceding the winner so late, they will be understandably aggrieved to not at least come away with a draw.
Nevertheless, they can hold their heads up high. They gave a good account of themselves, perhaps only guilty of sitting too deep in the second half and inviting Germany onto them.
The threat they posed on the break though is remarkable. They are a hardworking side and do the basics well. Given the heart they’ve shown in their opening two games, you wouldn’t bet against them progressing despite this defeat.
They will have to beat Mexico by a margin greater than Germany beat South Korea for that to happen but it isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
Germany looked like a different team after half-time and in many ways, they were. Apart from the general attitude of the players in the second half – who emerged from the break with fire in their bellies – it was a single substitution that made a huge impact, altering their approach and upping the tempo. Julian Draxler was sacrificed for Mario Gomez who took up the central striking role with Timo Werner moving to the left flank.
The RB Leipzig forward was largely anonymous in the opening 45 minutes but perhaps the key player in the next. His pace put Swedish right-back Mikael Lustig in a world of discomfort. Suddenly, the Germans were far more direct with Werner tearing down the left side and drilling balls into the box where Gomez proved to be a big and useful target.
That’s exactly how Germany scored both their goals. Reus bundled in Werner’s cross and Kroos converted his free-kick from a foul earned by the youngster.
That only dredges up the controversial omission of Leroy Sane from the World Cup squad. Despite, the Manchester City winger’s sensational season in which he was voted Premier League Young Player of the Year, Low decided against taking him to Russia. Given how Werner’s pace proved to be a threat in this scenario, one can only assume that Germany could’ve been even more effective with Sane bombing down the other side.
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