Defending champions Germany snatched an extraordinary victory in Sochi at the expense of Sweden on Saturday night to put themselves firmly in the driving seat for a place in the last 16 of the World Cup in a dramatic stoppage-time finale.
The holders looked to have half a foot out of the tournament with the scores locked at 1-1 and a man down after Jérôme Boateng's red card 10 minutes from time until Toni Kroos popped up in the 95th minute to crack home a shot from a free-kick one-two with Marco Reus that saved Joachim Löw’s side from the almost certain fate of crashing out in Russia after Mexico had beaten South Korea earlier in the day.
Reus cancelled out Ola Toivonen’s clever first-half strike just after the restart, latching onto a cross from Timo Werner, who had been redeployed on the wing after a barren opening 45 in what proved to a masterstroke from Löw. The Leipzig forward was a constant thorn in Sweden’s left side and it was Werner who also won what proved to be the decisive free kick with the clock ticking towards Germany’s likely early exit for the first time in 80 years.
Kroos saves Germany from curse of the holders
Kroos’ intervention sent the Germany fans inside the Fisht Olympic Stadium into rapture and rescued his country in the nick of time. Had Löw’s side failed to secure victory they would have been marooned on a single point in Group F with Sweden on four and Mexico on six and in serious danger of following in the footsteps of France, Italy and Spain, all of whom went out in the group stage as champions in 2002, 2010 and 2014 respectively.
Now, Germany’s fate is firmly in their own hands. The holders face South Korea, who are already eliminated, in their final game while Sweden play Mexico. The protagonists in Sochi are locked on points and goal difference and Sweden will have to match Germany’s result and overhaul Mexico's two-goal advantage to secure their own passage to the last 16, an outcome that looked likely until deep into stoppage time in Sochi.
The manner of Germany’s victory, achieved against a stout defensive display by Janne Andersson's side, will inject fresh belief in the holders’ camp after their opening day loss and South Korea will have to offer considerably more than they have to date to prevent Löw’s side progressing and knocking Sweden out with the same stroke.