Toni Kroos’ sublime indirect kick into the side netting from an acute angle in the 95th minute rescued 10-man Germany from a possible Gijon scenario as the reigning World Cup champion fought back to record a 2-1 victory over Sweden in Group F play Saturday at Sochi.
Germany were awarded a free kick just outside the penalty area on the left side, 12 yards from the end line. Kroos tapped the ball to Marco Reus, who stopped it just inside the penalty area before the Real Madrid man left fly with a blistering right-footed shot Sweden keeper Robin Olsen did not see until it was too late as it flew past him into the net.
While Die Mannschaft played levels better than in their 1-0 defeat to Mexico on Sunday, they were still left with tons of work to do over the final 45 minutes and stoppage time in a testy, physical contest against a Sweden side that had knocked the Netherlands out during World Cup qualifying and sent Italy packing in a two-legged playoff before beating South Korea to start group play.
Reus had the other goal in the 49th minute to level the match as Germany played a man down after Jerome Boateng was given his second yellow card in the 82nd minute for a poor challenge on Marcus Berg.
Boateng, who was booked by Szymon Marciniak 11 minutes prior and will miss the final group match versus South Korea, was also lucky not to have been called for a penalty on 13 minutes when Berg tried to strike on the counter.
Germany and Sweden are now tied for second on three points with identical goal difference and goals scored. A loss would have eliminated Die Mannschaft while a draw would have taken destiny out of their hands as Sweden and Mexico could have played to a draw that would have dumped the champions out of Russia, recalling a scenario in the 1982 World Cup in which Germany and Austria cynically advanced at the expense of Algeria with a 1-0 victory for Germany in Spain in which the sides did next to nothing for the final 80 minutes of the match.
Such a possibility started looking like a reality for Germany, who had possession for an overwhelming majority of the match for the first half-hour as coach Joachim Low made four changes to the side that lost to Mexico, most notably dropping midfielder Mesut Ozil for Reus.
Yet within that span Sweden fashioned the first scoring threat of the match as Berg was sent through Germany’s high line following a giveaway by Antonio Rudiger.
Boateng, giving chase, caught up to Berg and managed to get a forearm into the back and clipped Berg as he clattered into the on-rushing Manuel Neuer. VAR did not alert Marciniak to give it a second look, and that occasional occurrence has emerged as the one large blemish of this system in its World Cup debut.
Given a reprieve, Germany continued to dominate possession but took a cruel hit in personnel when Sebastian Rudy was inadvertently clipped in the face by the boot of Ola Toivonen in the 24th minute. Sweden played with a man advantage for nearly six minutes and had its first spell of possession while they tried to staunch the bleeding from Rudy’s nose, but nothing came out of it for the Blagult.
Finally, Germany manager Joachim Low introduced Ilkay Gundogan on the half-hour when it became clear Rudy would not be able to continue, and Sweden struck again on the counter almost instantaneously.
Kroos had a giveaway on the right side that gave Sweden’s Viktor Claesson a free run down the flank. He chipped ahead to Toivonen, who was able to chest down the ball and lob Neuer from just outside the six-yard box in the 32nd minute to open the scoring.
Germany roared to life and nearly pulled level on 39 minutes when Gundogan’s shot from 25 yards took a deflection that wrong-footed Olsen, who deflected it with his shoulder. Thomas Muller nearly got to the rebound, but Sweden defender Mikael Lustig was able to get a boot to it to help it roll just wide of the left post.
Cleasson should have done better to get a shot on target after a wonderful cross from Emil Forsberg put him into the penalty area on the right, but an even better chance came just before the halftime whistle as Neuer went full stretch to his right to parry away a header by Berg after a sumptuous cross on a free kick from Sebastian Larsson.
Low introduced Mario Gomez for an ineffective Julian Draxler at halftime, and the move paid immediate dividends as he assisted on Reus’ goal four minutes after the restart. Timo Werner set in a cross from the left that Gomez got a boot to, making it bounce before Reus sent it past Olsen and inside the left post as it pinged off his knee.
Die Mannschaft played nearly the next 20 minutes in Sweden’s half of the pitch, often probing the left side through Werner as he gave Lustig all he could handle. Muller narrowly went wide of the right post on a header from eight yards on a pass from Kroos, and Jonas Hector had a shot caught by Olsen as Germany pushed numbers forward and left only Rudiger back.
Forsberg had a half-chance in the 76th minute, but his 20-yard volley on a clearing attempt off a corner sailed over the bar. Sweden had another chance in the 83rd minute when Neuer slipped getting to a ball and had to punch it to safety before John Guidetti could get to it.
But even playing down a man, Germany continued to dominate possession and fashion scoring chances as Sweden looked like it was trying to see out the match for one point instead of three.
Olsen tipped a Gomez header from point-blank range over the bar on 88 minutes. Julian Brandt, introduced as Germany’s final sub in the 87th minute, was unlucky with the woodwork for the second time in as many matches as his fizzing 20-yard left-footed shot smacked the left post.
By that point, it appeared the teams were going to share the points before Kroos delivered in stunning fashion after Brandt won the free kick following a poor challenge by Jimmy Durmaz. At 94 minutes and 39 seconds, the goal was the latest match-winner in World Cup history, beating Francesco Totti’s goal at 94:26 for Italy versus Australia in 2006.
If Germany defeats South Korea as expected, Sweden would have to beat Mexico by two goals to advance because El Tri has scored more goals than the Blagult (3-2) in their two matches.