KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING — Germany have capitalised on matches against Sweden in the past to put their stumbling World Cup campaigns back on track. But never quite as desperately or as late as they managed here in Russia in Sochi.
The World Cup holders appeared down and out, at risk of emulating France in 2002, Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014 as defending champions knocked out in the first round. Yet somehow they kept on battling and believing to set up a dramatic Group F finale next Wednesday.
A stunning goal from Toulouse forward Ola Toivonen handed Sweden a first-half advantage only for Marco Reus to level three minutes after the interval and Toni Kroos to snatch a stoppage-time winner. Victory over South Korea in Kazan next Wednesday will see Germany into the knockout stage unless Sweden, simultaneously, manage to beat table-topping Mexico.
Twice before in World Cup history Germany have rescued their campaigns with victories over Sweden.
Once was in the 1966 qualifiers when West Germany won crucially in Stockholm after gambling in attack on the barely-fit Uwe Seeler and in midfield on the youthful new Bayern Munich midfielder Franz Beckenbauer.
Eight years later, in front of their own fans, West Germany beat Sweden 4-2 in Dusseldorf in a second round tie to rescue their campaign after a morale-battering and historic 1-0 defeat by East Germany. They went on, ultimately, to beat Holland in the final.
Now, here, they have managed the trick yet again. But it was desperately nerve-shredding and the Germans were hardly impressive. They made up with spirit and belief what they lacked in cohesion and organisation.
Germany, after their opening defeat by Mexico, knew they had to win. Julian Draxler and Timo Werner went close in the initial minutes but Sweden sounded a warning when Magnus Berg was foiled on the counter attack only by the speedy advance of Manuel Neuer.
Germany’s goalkeeper-captain was left helpless just after the halfhour, however, as Toivonen chested down a through ball from Viktor Claesson and lobbed Sweden into the lead.
Mario Gomez replaced Julian Draxler at half-time and within three minutes Germany were level as a Timo Werner cross ricocheted in off Marco Reus’s knee.
Kroos had a free kick deflected wide and Thomas Muller headed wide but maintaining the siege grew more complicated after Germany were reduced to 10 men by the expulsion of Jerome Boateng for a second yellow card.
Still they had a little time and a lot of belief.
Gomez saw a close-range header brilliantly punched over the bar by keeper Robin Olsen and late substitute Julian Brandts hit a post before Kroos curled a touch-back from his free kick into the far corner. Germany were still on track. Just.
As Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, after a chastening night with Manchester United against Bayern, once said: “A German team are beaten only when they’re in the bus on the way to the airport”