SOCHI, Russia — What happened Saturday night in the Sochi Olympic stadium defied earthly norms in enough ways that it wound up altering the brain until the scene looked misshapen. So it finally kind of made a demented sense in the 95th minute when the whole thing drifted into psychedelia, as Germany’s relieved players went streaming down the sideline to heave into a festive pile in the stadium corner, having just beheld Toni Kroos’s whiplash winner. They did so as German fans boomed a sound German fans never boom, that unmistakable sound of escape.
What in the World Cup was this 2-1 win by Germany over Sweden?
It was a second group game that came off feeling like some gasping semifinal or some death scrap in a prairie. It was an event that gave its 44,287 witnesses an experience nobody ever has, that of seeing Germany — Germany, that staple of reliability! — running around all night on a precipice, when the whole idea of Germany is often about the avoidance of precipice. It was a night spent with a defending World Cup champion that hasn’t fallen short of a semifinal this century looking like it might be eliminated after two first-round losses — as it would have if Sweden’s 1-0 halftime lead had held — or if it might drift near the early-exit door, as it would have with a draw on Saturday.
Now Germany has three points in Group F alongside Sweden behind front-running Mexico on six, even as the people who saw it play Sweden will carry home memories soccer fans so seldom have. They saw a German defense — the German defense, that bulwark of life on Earth! — look downright harum-scarum against the Swedish counterattack. They saw Germany’s Jerome Boateng look so hopeless that in the 12th minute he had to shove Sweden’s Marcus Berg on a breakaway, and should have gotten carded there with Sweden taking a penalty kick, yet didn’t, yet somehow managed two other cards anyway to depart the premises in the 82nd minute.
Then they saw Germany operate with 10 men from there, yet still hang out around the Swedish goal as if it had 12, so that Germany’s 77-percent possession sometimes felt like 101. A fine mass of passes around the box in the 88th minute established Mario Gomez’s header that goalkeeper Robin Olsen saved, and another threat in the 92nd wound up with Julian Brandt driving from 20 yards and smacking the right post of the goal.
Clearly, the Germans could not finish, and then, at the very last chance, they could.
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Somehow in this kooky thing, Sweden’s sub Jimmy Durmaz managed to trip Germany’s Timo Werner left of the box, so that as the curtain fixed to drop on the night, Kroos had a free kick from that spot. He nudged the ball to Marco Reus, who simply stopped it with his foot, teeing up a shot that Kroos sent screaming on a fine curl around the masses and into the upper right side of the net, so that 55-year-old Sweden Manager Janne Andersson called it “probably the worst end of a game I’ve experienced in my career.”
Nobody will forget it, unless Germany just goes blah from here, in which case it will become a dandy little meaningless moment.
In fact, the night was so relentless with meaning and surprise that Andersson also expressed anger about the German celebration streaming past the Swedish bench and, he said, “rubbing it into our faces.”
Germany Manager Joachim Loew said, “We fell into each other’s arms and were so elated.”
The Real Madrid employee Kroos said: “Happy, of course. Happy. Was a tough game again today for us. We suffered, but it’s normal if you not score the early goal, and we had the chance, and it’s going to be difficult in the end. It was, but now of course we’re happy.”
Thanks to its loss to Mexico last Sunday and to the Mexicans’ 2-1 win over South Korea earlier Saturday, Germany had gone to halftime on the verge of early dismissal, which hadn’t happened to it at this stage since 1938. It had gone to this verge on a sonnet of a goal from Sweden’s Ola Toivonen, who chested Viktor Claesson’s pretty, descending cross in the 32nd minute and plucked the ball over goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. As part of the evening’s gaudy decor, the yellow-clad Swedish quadrant of the stadium bounced like mad.
Then the Germans decided they couldn’t bear to join the roster of defending World Cup champions who fizzle the next time, seemingly exhausted, such as France in 2002 and Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014. They got Werner’s surge on the left by Gomez’s foot to Reus’s knee and into the left edge of the goal in the 48th.
Then they spent the rest straining to avoid that draw. They had chances in the 49th minute, the 51st, 56th, 61st, 66th, 72nd, 81st, 88th and 92nd. They had Kroos going just wide, Thomas Mueller heading just wide, Werner flying around on the left, Werner to Jonas Hector, Joshua Kimmich to Werner but then Werner’s shot over the goal, Olsen’s save on Gomez, Brandt’s strike to the post.
Then, with a 1-1 draw and on one point in the group, with Sweden on four and Mexico on six and those two due to play each other next week, the Germans were done for the night and just about done for good.
Then, they weren’t.
They had drifted into such trouble, and clambered out of it so dramatically, that on a night that looked so unfamiliar, it hardly looked like Germany.
Germany: vs. South Korea in Kazan, Wednesday, 10 a.m.
Sweden: vs. Mexico in Ekaterinburg, Wednesday, 10 a.m.
Seconds before full time, Germany’s Toni Kroos scored off a free kick. The goal gave Germany the lead, three much-needed points in the standings and staved off elimination from the knockout rounds.
Germany had two chances to take the lead, but failed to do so. In the first, Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen made an incredible save, jumping up just in time to tip the ball over the net.
In the other, Germany got off a strong strike, but it hit the goal post and was unable to find its way into the net.
After Boateng received his second yellow card (in the 81st minute), he was ejected. The yellow card came when Boateng had a collision with Sweden’s Marcus Berg.
Another yellow card
Against Germany’s Jerome Boateng in the 70th minute.
Called against Sweden’s Albin Edkal in the 51st minute.
Just two minutes into the second half, Germany finally got on the board in this World Cup. Marco Reus scored the equalizer in the 48th minute, breathing life into the German side’s hopes of advancing. As long as it can hang on to this tie, Germany will have a shot at reaching the World Cup’s knockout stages.
It was a slow first half, but Sweden leads Germany 1-0 heading into the break. The German side has taken more shots and possessed the ball more than the Swedes so far, but it is coming up short where it matters most. A lot is at stake for Germany in the remaining 45 minutes of the match; if they fail to win, they will be eliminated from the tournament.
Sweden draws first blood, scoring in the 31st minute of the game. Ola Toionen managed to tap the ball in the net after receiving it off a pass from Viktor Claesson.
Germany managed to get two shots off in the first eight minutes. Both missed, but Germany has been in control of the game early, possessing the ball 91 percent of the time.
Germany entered this year’s World Cup as a clear favorite, but last week’s shocking upset to Mexico has the Germans in a spot. The lone goal in that loss came in the 35th minute, when 22-year-old Hirving Lozano picked up Javier Hernandez’s pass inside the penalty area and beat a defender before scoring on Germany’s goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer. The result sent shock waves through Mexico, literally, creating what may have been an artificial man-made earthquake in Mexico, while it left Germany’s future at this World Cup uncertain.
Mexico plays South Korea earlier Saturday; if the favored El Tri earn at least a draw, Germany could be eliminated with a loss against Sweden. No defending champion has failed to make the knockout round since France in 2002.
Sweden, meanwhile, got a penalty kick goal from Andreas Granqvist in a 1-0 win over South Korea. It was the first time the Swedes had won their opening World Cup match since 1958, against — that’s right — Mexico. Sweden hasn’t beaten Germany in their last 11 meetings, dating to 1978, according to the BBC.
When: Saturday, June 23, 2 p.m. Eastern.
How to watch on TV: Fox.
How to stream online: Fox Sports and the Fox Soccer Match Pass apps and FoxSportsGo.com.
How to watch in Spanish: Telemundo.
How to watch in Canada: Bell Media’s TSN and CTV networks, the TSN GO app and TSN.ca/live.
Germany (0-0-1, 0 points)
- Last showing in the World Cup: Champions, 2014.
- Best finish: Champions, 2014, 1990 and 1974.
- Notable: Germany has reached at least the quarterfinals (or finished in the top eight) in 17 of its 18 World Cup appearances. That’s the best rate of any nation.
- FIFA world ranking: 1. ELO world ranking: 3.
Sweden (1-0-0, 3 points)
- Last showing in the World Cup: Round of 16, 2006.
- Best finish: Runner-up, 1958, in a tournament it hosted.
- Notable: Sweden is unbeaten in their last 10 group stage games. Their last group stage loss came in 1990, a 2-1 result against Costa Rica.
- FIFA world ranking: 24. ELO world ranking: 19.
Players to watch
Winger Emil Forsberg will be key for the Swedes to have a shot against the reigning champions. Forsberg has good speed and a solid repertoire of skills, and is counted on to key Sweden’s attack. Germany’s Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich) is one of the world’s best goalkeepers. He missed most of the Bundesliga season with a foot injury before returning to the national team this month. For the Germans to make the sort of run they’ve come to expect, he will have to be in top form.
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