Just days after Toni Kroos’ 95th minute against Sweden, Germany’s first win at the 2018 World Cup still seems rather surreal. A defeat would have seen them eliminated in the group stages but perseverance saw them through with the possibility of advancing to the knockout stages now a likely outcome.
Joachim Löw’s Germany couldn’t have made the situation harder if they had tried. Löw dropped Mesut Özil – arguably Germany’s best player vs Mexico – as he looked to make a statement of intent that no player was safe. The Arsenal man had started 26 consecutive games for Germany at major competitions before being benched against Sweden.
But despite four changes, the early stages showed that Germany hadn’t learnt from their mistakes made during their Mexico defeat. Time and time again Sweden were able to break on the counter-attack with Jerome Boateng lucky not to give away a penalty for push on Marcus Berg.
After failing to find the net for Toulouse this season, Ola Toivonen almost cemented himself as a national hero had Sweden gone on to win. The former Sunderland player latched onto the ball before composing himself to chip Manuel Neuer, a goal worthy of three points alone.
In Germany’s case however, something needed to change. Chances were created in the opening 45 minutes but Sweden remained strong at the back, something Löw surely would’ve known prior to the fixture, hence why many fans had called for Mario Gomez to start over Timo Werner, considering their deep defensive line.
Whatever Löw had said at half-time, it worked. Within minutes Marco Reus had the ball in the net and suddenly there was a sigh of relief, a sense that Germany could now go on and win.
Although, the German way is not necessarily the easiest way. Boateng was sent off with eight minutes remaining for a second bookable offence and all of a sudden, it looked as though Germany were back to square one. Attacking in waves, Reus & Co. were unable to find a way through Sweden’s deeper line until Werner found space down the left.
With seconds remaining, Werner won Germany a free-kick in a position that probably shouldn’t have warranted a shot. But eager to make up for his mistake that resulted in Sweden’s goal, Kroos composed himself to strike the ball into the top right corner from a fairly tight angle.
As German journalist Raphael Honigstein mentioned in his ESPN column, Kroos’ goal did much more than gain Germany three points. He described Germany’s winner against Sweden as the: “first riot of collective ecstasy the country experienced since Mario Gotze smashed in the golden goal at the Maracana four years – an eternity – ago.”
And it certainly feels like that. Around Germany, there’s now a belief of what if, what if Germany can go on and retain their crown, what if come July 15 that fans are talking about Kroos’ goal in Moscow as hadn’t it have gone in, Germany could well have been eliminated in the group stages.
Kroos had criticised German press in his post-match interview, suggesting that media would have liked Germany to go out so they have something to talk about: “I had the feeling that relatively many people in Germany would have been happy if he had got knocked out today, but we won’t make it that easy for them.”
And now, there seems to be a change in tone.
German outlet Bild suggested that: “If you manage to turn around a game like this, you can reach great things,” while Cologne’s Express asked the question: “Does this mean the tournament team is back?”
Positivity within the German media has certainly returned to the front pages but Germany know there’s still a lot of work to do ahead of their game against South Korea.
Die Mannschaft returned to their Vatutinki base in the dead of the night, located on the outskirts of Moscow, with preparations between Löw and his coaching staff no doubt well underway. Of course, there’s still a possibility that they could be eliminated while questions remain over the defensive stability of Germany, but fans would hope that these problems are quashed come Thursday evening.