What looked like a done deal and three points for the German national team in Berlin Tuesday evening turned out to be quite a different affair, as Sweden came back from a 4-0 deficit to stun the Germans and share a point in a 4-4 draw. Germany’s 4-0 lead amazingly evaporated over the last 30 minutes of play. Tuesday’s result leaves Germany still atop Group C with 10 points, but Sweden and the Republic of Ireland each have a game in hand with totals of 7 and 6 points respectively.
Neuer; Boateng, Mertesacker, Badstuber, Lahm; Schweinsteiger, Kroos; T. Müller, Özil, Reus; Klose
Substitutes: Zieler, ter Stegen, Höwedes, Westermann, M. Götze, Schürrle, Podolski
Isaksson; Lustig, Granqvist, J. Olsson, Safari; Wernbloom, Holmén; Larsson, Ibrahimović, R. Elm; Elmander
Substitutes: Dahlin, Hansson, Almebäck, Martin Olsson, A. Johansson, Wilhelmsson, A. Svensson, Källström, Kačaniklić, Ranegie, Berg
Despite reports of friction within the squad, Germany strolled to victory in Ireland on Friday and thus went into tonight’s game top of Group C with three wins out of three. Sweden looked their strongest rivals in the qualification phase for the next World Cup, so the match in Berlin was sure to be significant on the road to Rio. The injured Marcel Schmelzer and Sami Khedira were replaced by Bayern Munich duo Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos in Joachim Löw’s side, while Sweden made four changes from their narrow 2-1 victory against the Faroe Islands with Martin Olsson, Kim Källström, Christian Wilhelmsson and Mathias Ranégie replaced by Behrang Safari, Samuel Holmén, Rasmus Elm and Johan Elmander.
Germany put Sweden to the sword for an hour on Tuesday evening but took only a point after an incredible capitulation in Berlin. Indeed, the outcome initially seemed to have been decided before the visitors had even made a meaningful venture into German territory. The Nationalmannschaft came out of the blocks fast and within two minutes the first big double chance fell to Thomas Müller after Boateng had found space down the right to square the ball. That was a recurring event early on, with Rasmus Elm too narrow, leaving Safari in the left back position exposed. However, the deserved breakthrough came from the other wing, as early as the eighth minute: Marco Reus’s run into the box was inexplicably not followed, and having been played in by Lahm he had time to cut the ball back for Miroslav Klose to hook home and move ever closer to Gerd Müller’s international goals total.
Germany’s early domination was crowned with a wonderful second after a quarter of an hour. Again it was Klose who had the easy finish from a Reus assist, but it came from stunning build-up. The Dortmund midfielder played a double one-two, first with Kroos and then Müller, before calmly squaring the ball for Germany’s lone striker to tap in at the second attempt. In these early stages Germany continually switched play effectively – doubling up on the opposition full backs and pulling the Swedish defence apart – but also reorganised quickly on the odd occasions when the visitors did manage to maintain possession. Although the tempo dropped after the second goal, Germany remained in control and seemed to have wrapped up victory before half-time when Per Mertesacker grabbed his second international goal to make it 3-0 after Müller headed the ball back across goal.
Sweden brought on Källström and Kačaniklić for Wernbloom and Holmén at half time, but things carried on from where they left off. Germany dominated possession, Müller went close on 50 minutes after a delightful Özil backheel, and five minutes later the Real Madrid playmaker scored the goal that surely had to bring the match to an end as a contest – the team’s fourth of the night and his fourth in his last four internationals. Again Müller was the provider down the right, and Toni Kroos showed good awareness not to poke home Özil‘s shot across goal from an offside position.
Then, things changed. Germany sat back and allowed Sweden possession, but it appeared to be just that – they allowed them to have the ball. There was still a feeling that they could take it back if and when they felt like it. Nevertheless, the Swedes grabbed a consolation on the hour mark with their first attempt on target – an excellent cross from substitute Källström expertly headed over Neuer by an unmarked Ibrahimović, who had been anonymous in the first 45 but now sprang into life. Just two minutes later the impossible was readjusted to improbable as (not for the last time) the German back four’s attempt to push out was insufficient to catch the opposition offside. Badstuber then misjudged Källström’s cross and Neuer was disappointingly beaten at his near post by Lustig’s right-footed shot. Shortly thereafter, Ibrahimović again got in behind the defence and the home side all of a sudden looked extremely shaken and unable to deal with Sweden’s aerial threat, Lustig almost getting his second goal from the resulting corner.
Löw brought Mario Götze on for Müller after 67 minutes and Germany seemed to have woken from a ten-minute daze, Kroos’s shot from the edge of the box well parried by Isaksson. The drama was far from over however, as Sweden incredibly reduced the deficit to a single goal with 15 minutes left to play. The role reversal was uncanny, as substitute Kačaniklić found himself in acres of space in almost the very same spot as Reus had for Germany’s opening salvo and cut back for Elmander to play the Klose role as grateful goalscorer.
Germany’s defensive collapse was hard to explain, but credit must go to Swedish coach Erik Hamrén, whose half-time substitutions had created a link between the side’s midfield and attack, in the process forcing Germany’s full backs to at least attempt defensive duties and in turn allow their opposite numbers an opportunity to provide an attacking threat – which Lustig in particular jumped on. Hamrén made his final switch in the 77th minute, debutant Sana replacing Larsson, and it was the new boy who wasted the best chance for an equaliser when the German back four was again torn apart by a simple ball over the top. Neuer fumbled, but Ajax midfielder Sana skied his follow-up shot with the goal gaping. Before that Kroos had hit the outside of the post at the other end, but what had seemed impossible was beginning to feel inevitable as the home side were time and again troubled by basic crosses.
It was not until the final minute of stoppage time that the unthinkable occurred, however. Rasmus Elm buried the ball in the bottom corner after Mertesacker failed to clear. The Arsenal defender was incensed at what he (probably rightly) felt was a foul by Ibrahimović, but Sweden will point to a handball by Klose (ironically honoured before the match for his honesty in admitting to the same offence in Lazio’s recent defeat to Napoli in Serie A) in the build-up to Germany’s third. In any case, it would be foolish for the German camp to focus on refereeing decisions after they surrendered a four-goal lead for the first time in the team’s history. The result does not majorly threaten the likelihood of qualification for Brazil 2014, but for a side with real hopes of becoming world champions in two years’ time, the Jekyll and Hyde performance is a genuine cause for concern
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