Sochi, Russia (AP) — The desperate world champions from Germany were seconds from losing control of their World Cup fate when Toni Kroos whispered to Marco Reus just outside Sweden’s penalty area.
Down to 10 men after Jerome Boateng was given a second yellow card, Germany rallied for a 2-1 victory over Sweden on Saturday to suddenly revive their title defence thanks to a strike from Kroos that caught the Swedes by surprise and won’t soon be forgotten in Germany.
“The fact Toni Kroos put it away is just incredible,” Reus said. “He’s shown that talent on previous occasions but really in this case it was practically the very last opportunity to win this match.”
Kroos lined up for a free kick as if he was going for goal but just tapped the ball to Reus, who held it with his toe as the defenders paused. Kroos swung his right foot, curling the ball past a spinning Sebastian Larsson and over the outstretched hand of diving goalkeeper Robin Olsen.
The Swedes watched the ball go in, mouths open in disbelief.
The Germans ran to Kroos and erupted in emotional relief.
“Happy of course. It was a tough game again today for us,” Kroos said. “We suffered. … If you don’t score an early goal and we have the chances then it’s going to be difficult until the end. It was, but now of course we’re happy because I think we also deserved the victory.”
Coming off an opening loss to Mexico, Germany fell behind again when Kroos’ early mistake led to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute. Reus equalized in the 48th. A point for a draw would have been enough to stay alive for the knockout stage, but the Germans would have needed help on the final day.
Now Germany have some control of what happens. Mexico lead Group F with six points, and Germany and Sweden both have three. Mexico face Sweden and Germany take on winless South Korea in the final group matches.
“Of course this was a thriller, full of emotions and a rollercoaster ride right up until the final whistle,” German coach Joachim Loew said.
Crazy as it seems, all four teams still have a chance to advance on the final day.
“There’s nothing strange to get ready for that match,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify.”
For 90-plus minutes, Germany looked as if they would enter the final match facing the same possible fate as Spain and Italy and potentially become the third straight defending champions to fail to reach the knockout stage. They played the final 10 minutes without Boateng.
Toivonen gave Sweden the lead, but Germany controlled every aspect by playing aggressive and attacking soccer. Germany forced Sweden to play defensively for almost the entire second half and eventually the attack paid off.
“Something that I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going down after conceding a goal,” Loew said. “We kept a level head.”
Reus scored to pull Germany even, finishing Timo Werner’s cross that was tapped by halftime substitute Mario Gomez and caused the ball to pop up perfectly for Reus to finish with his leg.
Olsen made a major save by stopping Gomez’s header in the 88th minute and Julian Brandt hit the post in the 90th, but he had no chance at Kroos’ strike.
“This is probably heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career,” Andersson said.
The victory puts the Germans back on track to advance to the knockout stage if they can get a win against South Korea and have a better goal differential than the Swedes or Mexico depending on the outcome of their final match.
Even if they do advance, Germany may be looking at being the No. 2 team from the group and potentially a matchup with Brazil in the round of 16.