SOCHI: Toni Kroos’ injury-time winner against Sweden revived defending champions Germany’s hopes of becoming the first side to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962.
The goal, five minutes into added time, and only moments before the final whistle, may have saved Germany’s World Cup campaign. It gives them three points in the group, three behind Mexico and even with Sweden. The Germans now probably need only a win over winless South Korea in their final group game to advance out of the first round — a possibility that seemed nervously out of reach at halftime.
The winning goal was a stunner: a free kick won on the left that Kroos rolled a yard ahead to Marco Reus. Reus stopped the ball and stepped back as Kroos took his full windup and curled a shot over a group of defenders, around goalkeeper Robin Olsen and inside the right post.
It felt like a relief to the Germans, who raced to Kroos at the corner flag and smothered him with a mix of joy and relief. A listless loss to Mexico in their opener had left the Germans in a precarious position when they took the field at the Fisht Stadium: secure in the knowledge that a defeat against the Swedes, who had won their first game, would ensure Germany’s World Cup exit after two games.
But four changes to the lineup and the death rattle of an early exit erased all the listlessness. The Germans were a relentless machine again on Saturday, and while the Swedes fought hard — and even took the lead first — they eventually crumbled under the pressure.
Over 90 minutes the German strategy seemed rather simple: push the ball up the center, slot it wide, cross it back in, and crash the net. When the Swedes cleared, the cycle would start all over: collect the clearance out top, move it wide, cross it in. Rinse and repeat.
Time and again it produced gasps but no goal. But three minutes into the second half, it finally worked. Werner took a ball in hard on the left and cut back a low cross toward the halftime substitute Mario Gomez. The ball was a yard behind him, and his outstretched trailing leg missed it. But that allowed it to reach Reus, and he turned it in for the tying goal.
The Germans sighed, the Swedes’ shoulders dropped, and the pattern promptly continued. A pass wide, a cross in, a ball cleared, or smothered, or sent off target. It was a training drill come to life, forced on Germany by an early Sweden goal.
That came in the 32nd minute, out of almost nothing and against the run of play. An errant pass by Toni Kross in the center circle became, in two quick Swedish passes, a chance bouncing of the chest of forward Ola Toivonen in the German penalty area. Coolly controlling under pressure, Toivonen brought the ball down and calmly popped it over a charging Manuel Neuer.
The Germans were stunned, and suddenly far, far closer to World Cup elimination than felt comfortable for a four-time champion playing only its second game here.
An hour later, it was the Swedes who sat stunned on the turf. They will now need to beat Mexico, and hope it’s the Germans who falter.