It’s just what champions do. When the chips are down, they come up with the goods and find a way to survive; find a way to win.
Holders Germany did just that in a sensational come-from-behind win over Sweden in Group F action at the Fisht Olympic Stadium. The match was poised at 1-1 with eight minutes of regular time left, when German centreback Jerome Boateng was shown a second yellow card for a reckless challenge from behind on Swedish striker Markus Berg. The future was looking bleak for the four-time champions.
In the knowledge that a point probably wouldn’t be good enough to see them progress after a lacklustre loss to Mexico, coach Joachim Löw rolled the dice and made an attacking substitution, throwing on forward Julian Brandt for fullback Jonas Hector. The bold move almost paid immediate dividends as the Leverkusen attacker struck the post with a fierce drive, but Germany weren’t done yet.
With literally the last kicks of the game, Marco Reus set up Toni Kroos on the edge of the area and the Real Madrid star responded by unleashing a swerving shot beyond goalkeeper Robin Olsen into the far corner. There was pandemonium as a mixture of joy and relief flooded the German camp, with members of their management taunting their Swedish counterparts on the sidelines.
“We didn’t lose our nerve,” Löw said. “We didn’t start breaking down in a panic after going down a goal. We kept our head.”
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He added: “I told them to keep their calm, to not start panicking and try things out. To not just start to try long, high balls. To keep going with rapid passing shots, to go wider with Timo Werner. ‘We have 45 minutes to turn this around.’ That’s what I told them.”
It was only what Die Mannschaft deserved, having produced twice as many shots as Sweden, and enjoying almost three times the possession.
After a somewhat sluggish start, the World Cup ante has now been nudged all the way up to 11, with a lot to play for in the final round of group fixtures.
Earlier, top-ranked Africans Tunisia simply could not live with Belgium’s attacking prowess and the Carthage Eagles’ error-prone defence were made to pay time and again for their meandering in a 5-2 rout at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium. Premier League stars Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku both grabbed two goals apiece, with the former putting the Red Devils ahead from the penalty spot as early as the fourth minute. Assured of a place in the Round of 16, Belgium now have the option of resting players in their mouthwatering fixture against England.
Mexico overcame South Korea 2-1 in a stop-start encounter that saw former Manchester United hitman Javier Hernandez net his 50th goal for his country and propel El Tri towards the last 16. Tottenham striker Son Heung-Min gave his side a glimmer of hope in injury time with a stunning curling effort from 25 metres out, but Mexico prevailed. The Koreans, however, are still in the competition courtesy of Germany’s dramatic victory and will be hoping results go their way in the final fixture.