Germany was left for dead. Then it struck at the death to breathe life into its World Cup title defense.
Toni Kroos’s incredible goal off a designed set piece in the 95th minute gave Germany a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Sweden on Saturday. Germany was down 1-0 after a Kroos error gifted Sweden a counter, on which Marcus Berg scored. At that point, Germany was out of the World Cup, given the other results in Group F. But a Marco Reus goal just after halftime brought the Germans back from the brink, and now they find themselves in a much safer standing after the victory, which was achieved with 10 men after Jerome Boateng was sent off late.
Following a 1-0 loss to Mexico, Germany came out pressing early, and it nearly scored two minutes in, when it had a chance off a wild goal-mouth scramble blocked from in close. Timo Werner had two chances to cross from by the near post, and after his first was blocked, he headed the second across goal to Julian Draxler. The PSG playmaker’s point-blank chance was blocked on the line, though, keeping it 0-0.
Germany pressured down the right-hand side again in the ninth minute, with Reus having a cross at the near post desperately cleared by Victor Lindelof before it could reach its target.
Sweden had none of the ball in the early going, but it nearly took a shocking lead in the 13th minute. Berg got in behind on a breakaway after a turnover by Antonio Rudiger, and while he was setting up to shoot on goal, Boateng appeared to push him from behind in the box. Manuel Neuer wound up coming off his line and making the save, while Berg went down claiming he should’ve had a penalty. VAR never intervened, and Germany escaped unscathed.
Germany was forced to play temporarily with 10 men after Sebastian Rudy took a cleat to the face while sliding for the ball. The Bayern Munich midfielder ultimately was forced to come out, with a bloody nose and apparent head injury wouldn’t relent. On in his place came Ilkay Gundogan, five minutes after Rudy walked to the sideline.
Germany conceded an unlikely goal moments later. Kroos’s giveaway in the middle of the field sparked an instant Sweden counter. Ola Toivonen took a touch off his chest after a lofted ball forward, and he then chipped Neuer from in close to make it 1-0.
Germany nearly equalized a few minutes later, when Gundogan laced a blast from long range that took a deflection, but goalkeeper Robin Olsen got down to his right and made the full-extension save to paw it to safety.
Neuer ensured the halftime deficit was only 1-0 on the last play of the opening 45 minute. Sebastian Larsson took a quick free kick, catching Germany off guard, and the ensuing header appeared destined for the far post, until a diving Neuer steered it away.
Germany came out of the locker room with a purpose. It took all of two minutes for the Germans to pull even, with Werner sending in a cross from the left that was touched ever so slightly by Mario Gomez. That allowed Reus to bundle home from close range, making it 1-1 and bringing Germany back from the brink of elimination.
Germany continued to apply high pressure and dominate the ball throughout the half. Its best chance appeared to be when the offside flag went up to nullify a Gomez point-blank opportunity that he put over the bar, but replays showed that when the ball was played over the top, Gomez was definitely onside.
Sweden hardly had opportunities going forward to find a winner, but one came in the 75th minute off a corner kick. The initial ball was cleared away, but Emil Forsberg whipped in a precise volley, one that Neuer read all the way and saved with a clean catch.
Germany went back on the offensive and nearly went ahead in the 81st minute. Werner’s attempt to redirect a cross to him in the center of the box flew painfully over the bar, though, keeping it 1-1.
Germany’s task to win got tougher a minute later, when Boateng, already on a yellow card, came clattering through Berg from behind. He was sent off for a second yellow, leaving his side with 10 men.
On the ensuing sequence, Neuer lost his footing trying to collect the ball in his six-yard box, and he recovered just in time to push it out for a corner, which ultimately came to nothing for Sweden.
Olsen came to Sweden’s rescue in the 88th minute, when Kroos delivered a perfect cross to Gomez for a point-blank header. The Swedish goalkeeper reacted in time, making the save to sensationally push the ball over the bar.
Despite the man disadvantage, Germany continued to push for a winner, and it nearly came from late substitute Julian Brandt, whose 20-yard laser hit off the far post, coming inches from beating Olsen.
Just when it appeared Sweden’s resolve would hold, Kroos broke through. The Real Madrid star atoned for his previous giveaway, scoring at the death on an incredible designed free kick to give Germany the 2-1 victory.
With the win, Germany is level with Sweden on points in second place in the group, with both trailing Mexico. Sweden faces Mexico and Germany plays South Korea in a pair of simultaneous finales that have much more at stake now that the Germans have won.
Here were the lineups for both teams:
Goalkeepers: Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Kevin Trapp (Paris Saint-Germain)
Defenders: Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Jonas Hector (Cologne), Antonio Ruediger (Chelsea), Niklas Suele (Bayern Munich), Marvin Plattenhardt (Hertha Berlin), Matthias Ginter (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Midfielders: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Sami Khedira (Juventus), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Julian Draxler (Paris Saint-Germain), Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City), Leon Goretzka (Schalke), Sebastian Rudy (Bayern Munich), Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen)
Forwards: Mario Gomez (Stuttgart), Timo Werner (Leipzig)
Manager: Jogi Low
Goalkeepers: Karl-Johan Johnsson (Guingamp), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea), Robin Olsen (FC Copenhagen)
Defenders: Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen), Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar), Filip Helander (Bologna), Pontus Jansson (Leeds), Emil Krafth (Bologna), Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), Martin Olsson (Swansea)
Midfielders: Viktor Claesson (Krasnodar), Jimmy Durmaz (Toulouse), Albin Ekdal (Hamburger SV), Emil Forsberg (Leipzig), Oscar Hiljemark (Genoa), Sebastian Larsson (Hull City), Marcus Rohden (FC Crotone), Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders)
Forwards: Marcus Berg (Al Ain), John Guidetti (Alaves), Isaac Kiese Thelin (Waasland-Beveren), Ola Toivonen (Toulouse)