Video: Toni Kroos rescues German World Cup hopes with last-gasp winner

By Sandy Thin, CNN

“Football is a simple game. 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win,” former England international Gary Lineker once said.

Saturday was no different, except their route to victory in a key World Cup group game at Russia 2018 was anything but simple for the four-time world champions.

At halftime Germany trailed Sweden 1-0 following Ola Toivonen’s sensational finish and were 45 minutes away from a humiliating group stage exit from the World Cup.

But Marco Reus drew the world champions level early in the second half and a last-gasp winner from the boot of Toni Kroos brought the Germans the win they desperately needed in the most dramatic fashion.

The win leaves Germany tied with Sweden on three points in Group F, behind Mexico, and needing three points in their final game against South Korea to guarantee progression to the knockout stages.

A game of two halves

The Swedes defended resolutely in the first half, and were unlucky not to have a penalty as Marcus Berg was brought down in Germany’s box by Jerome Boateng, who had a game to forget.

But a deserved breakthrough came for the Swedes as Toivonen beautifully controlled the ball with his chest before an inch-perfect finish, lifted over the fully-stretched figure of Manuel Neuer and down into the corner of the German net.

However, Joachim Löw’s half-time team talk clearly made an impact on his players, with the equalizer coming two minutes into the second half as Timo Werner fizzed a ball across the box to be guided home by Reus.

Even then Germany fell back into the pedestrian performance of the first half, lethargic in defence and inconsistent in attack — the same frailties that plagued the side against Mexico resurfacing once more.

And with 10 minutes to go, Boateng received a second yellow card, reducing Germany team to 10 men and leaving them potentially without either first choice central defender for their must-win match against South Korea, with Mats Hummels suffering from a neck injury.

Late chances went begging for substitutes Mario Gomez and Julian Brandt, before Kroos stepped up for a free-kick in the 95th minute, curled perfectly into the top corner past the flying figure of Robin Olsen.

Löw had rung the changes before the game, bringing Reus and Sebastian Rudy into the starting line-up at the expense of Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira — the first time the Germany coach has left the Arsenal midfielder out of the starting XI at a major tournament since 2008.

Low’s decision to leave Manchester City forward Leroy Sane out of the squad will be under the spotlight once more as the attacking line were repeatedly frustrated by Sweden’s defence, seemingly incapable of finding a creative spark throughout the first half.

The holders are left needing to better Sweden’s result in the final round of games — against South Korea and Mexico respectively — if they are to go through, while the chances of Germany meeting Brazil in the round of 16 boosted by Mexico’s earlier win over South Korea.

Mexico continue to impress

In the earlier Group F game in Rostov-on-Don, Mexico strolled to a 2-1 win over South Korea, fueled with confidence from their opening victory over Germany.

Carlos Vela gave Mexico the lead with a penalty after Korean defender Jang Hyun-soo blocked Andres Guardado’s cross with his arm inside the area, before the nation’s all-time leading goalscorer Javier Hernandez doubled their lead in the second half with his 50th international goal.

With little else to cheer in the match, the South Korean fans were lifted by an impressive injury-time strike from Tottenham forward Son Heung-min — their first goal of this World Cup — but it was too late to push for an equalizer.

The opening penalty was just one of 14 spot-kicks awarded in the tournament so far — more than in the entire 2014 World Cup — with many pointing to the newly-introduced VAR as the reason for the spike in penalties.

France 1998 saw 18 penalties awarded, but 2018 — already so dominated by debate around the new video officiating technology — looks likely to break that record with over 30 matches still to play.

With little else to cheer in the match, the South Korean fans were lifted by an impressive injury-time strike from Tottenham forward Son Heung-min — their first goal of this World Cup — but it was too late to push for an equalizer.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung-sook looked on from the stands in the Rostov Arena as part of their three-day visit to Russia, but a second consecutive 1-0 defeat leaves the 2002 semifinalists them on the brink of an early exit from the tournament.

President Moon was photographed after the match consoling Son, tearful at the team’s impending elimination from the tournament.

South Korea have now gone eight World Cup matches without a win — going back to the group stages of 2010 — and face the daunting prospect of Germany in their final group game.