It was a typical German show of grit and guts: never-say-die till the long whistle.
Tied 1-1 and down to 10 men, deep into injury time against a highly spirited Sweden, their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread, the Germans stepped up to find a winner through a stunning strike from midfielder Toni Kroos. An absolute heart-stopper!
It was 95 minutes into the game and possibly the last German shot at goal when the defending champions won a free kick yards off the left side of the box. The most common tendency would have been to scoop the ball high into the penalty area for a teammate to head home or to create a scoring opportunity from a goalmouth melee.
But Kroos chose not to leave the last shot to chance. He appeared cool, composed and almost mechanical in a nerve-fraying situation. Teammate Marco Reus stopped his light tap on the ball for Kroos to step up and fire in the ball that sailed smoothly over the heads of leaping defenders, curved slightly to evade the outstretched hands of Swedish goalkeeper before slamming into the net at the far post. A perfectly guided Kroos missile numbed the Swedish into disbelief and sent German fans into frenzy.
The margin of error was minuscule and more often than not that shot by most players would have sailed wide and high. But Kroos got everything right in this exquisite shot, executed with machine-like precision to deny Sweden a well-deserved draw and prove how prophetic was the quote of former England captain Gary Lineker.
"Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win," lamented Lineker following defeat at the hands of the Germans in the World Cup semifinal in 1990.
The goal means Germany still need a win in their final World Cup game against South Korea, and will have to hope that results go in their favour in the Sweden-Mexico game.
Interestingly, scoring match-winning goals in the final minutes goes well with the typical German mentality. In the 1954 World Cup, when Germany was divided and played qualifiers as East and West, West Germany lost a group game 8-3 to the fabled Hungarian side. Against the same side in the final West Germany were 2-0 down within eight minutes of the kick-off, but before 20 minutes had been played the game was 2-2 and Germany took the lead in the end.
England were the victims of West Germany's habit of pulling late surprises in the quarterfinal of 1970 World Cup. Franz Beckenbauer inspired West Germany to equal England's two-goal lead before pulling off a 3-2 win in stoppage time. Four years later in the next World Cup, West Germany upset tournament favourites Netherlands by winning a late spot-kick and scoring from it.
However, the late German revival of June 23 seized the spotlight from a brilliant Belgium performance. Belgium threw a grim warning once again to other title aspirants by routing Tunisia 5-2, with each of their two superstars -- Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku -- scoring twice.
This Belgian side is certainly blessed with an abundance of talent, and has the ability to go all the way, shocking lots of heavyweights in the process. Trust me, Belgium are the tournament's dark horses.
The writer is former Sports Editor of The Daily Star
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