It started off with a little rumble and, by the end, the ground was shaking and families were looking for sturdy tables to dash under. No, it was not another earthquake—just German fans sprinting back to the bandwagon, as midfielder Toni Kroos revived the defending World Cup champions with a last gasp winner in Sochi.
Germany edged Sweden 2-1 in their crucial Group F clash today. And, should Germany defeat Korea Republic and Mexico tie or defeat Sweden next Wednesday, “Die Mannschaft” will advance to the Round of 16 as group runners up.
Mexico won their second match in Group F today, as a Carlos Vela penalty and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez strike on the counter steered “El Tricolour” to a 2-1 win over the Korea Republic. Mexico must avoid a 2-0 loss to Sweden to advance.
Should Sweden and Germany win by a solitary goal on Wednesday, both nations and Mexico will have six points as well as identical goal differential and goals scored.
FIFA will then check their disciplinary records to decide who advances. At present, Germany fares worse in this scenario as they have minus five points—after defender Jerome Boateng’s red card today—while Mexico and Sweden have minus two points and minus three points respectively.
Belgium ensured their own supporters would not need calculators, though, as they enjoyed another utterly straightforward win in Group G today. Stars Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku bagged braces while Michy Batshuayi came off the bench to add a fifth in their 5-2 rout of Tunisia.
Belgium have now gone 21 games without a defeat. Only Spain, who are on an unbeaten 22 match run, have a more impressive stretch among the 32 nations in Russia.
Spain, incidentally, were the last team to defeat Belgium, which they managed in a friendly affair in September 2016.
Or, to put that into context, the last time Belgium lost a football match: Barack Obama was United States president, Leicester City were defending England Premier League champions, Trinidad and Tobago’s speed limit on the highway was 80kph and MX Prime had not yet sung “Jamming Still”.
Belgium led 4-1 at the hour mark, when coach Roberto Martinez removed his entire front three of Hazard, Lukaku and winger Dries Mertens, to keep his powder dry for next Thursday’s closing group match with England.
Just how good is Belgium? Well, Kevin De Bruyne—hailed by Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola as the finest midfielder in Europe—acts as a midfield sentry behind Hazard and company.
It is like asking Superman to use his heat vision to warm up leftovers.
Elsewhere in Sochi, Kroos donned his cape with a stoppage free kick that exploited the faulty positioning of Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen.
Germany played without maestro Mesut Özil, who was dropped to the bench after 26 successive starts under coach Joachim Löw.
Özil, who also has Turkish citizenship, was booed by Germany fans in the build-up to the Russia World Cup—after posing for a photograph with controversial Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, alongside national teammate, İlkay Gündoğan—and ex-German midfielder Mario Basler said the Arsenal playmaker had “the body language of a dead frog” after his country’s opening 1-0 World Cup defeat to Mexico.
To which Özil might be forgiven for asking: “Who?”
Basler amassed 30 national caps and two goals over his career and never played for a German title winning team—although he was an used substitute in the Euro 1996 competition.
In contrast, Özil was a key member of Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning team and, at just 29, has 91 appearances with a respectable 23 goals. Not bad for a dead frog.
Intriguingly, if Germany finish second in Group F—as is now a distinct possibility—and Brazil hold off Serbia on Wednesday, the two nations will meet in the Round of 16 for their first competitive match since Die Mannschaft mauled the “Samba Boys” 7-1 in a 2014 World Cup semifinal match at Bel Horizonte.
Wired868 reader and unabashed Brazilian supporter, Earl “Mango” Pierre, might have to watch that contest from behind his couch. Them really good yes.
2018 World Cup
(Saturday 23 June)
Belgium 5 (Eden Hazard 6 pen, 51, Romelu Lukaku 16, 45, Michy Batshuayi 90), Tunisia 2 (Dylan Bronn 18, Wahbi Khazri 93), Group G, Moscow;
Korea Rep 1 (Heung-Min Son 93), Mexico 2 (Carlos Vela 26 pen, Javier Hernandez 66), Group F, Rostov-On-Don;
Germany 2 (Marco Reus 48, Toni Kroos 95 FK), Sweden 1 (Ola Toivonen 32), Group F, Sochi.
*—Boateng ejected for second yellow card.
(Sunday 24 June)
England v Panama, 8am, Group G, Nizhny Nivgorod;
Japan v Senegal, 11am, Group H, Ekaterinburg;
Poland v Colombia, 2pm, Group H, Kazan.
(What the knockout round would look like if the group stage ended tonight)
France (C1)/Nigeria (D2) vs Russia (A1)/Spain (B2);
Brazil (E1)/Sweden (F2) vs Belgium (G1)/Japan (H2).
Portugal (B1)/Uruguay (A2) vs Croatia (D1)/Denmark (C2);
Mexico (F1)/Switzerland (E2) vs Senegal (H1)/England (G2).