Another round-up from the World Cup, this time from Groups E & F as both Brazil and Germany leave it late with crucial victories over Costa Rica and Sweden respectively.
It’s going to take something special for a South American side to win in Russia. As previously stated in other dusty recaps, only a Pele-inspired 1958 Brazilian team has ever won the World Cup on European soil (Sweden), and if this Brazilian side is to repeat that feat, it will no doubt be because of their own little Pele – Neymar Jr.
The most fouled man at the World Cup (14 times) is the still the dude knitting everything together, and he was on his knees in tears at the end of the final whistle in a match that could have ended so tragically for the pre-tournament favourites.
Brazil did everything but score in a second half they dominated, and it looked like they would take the lead from the penalty spot after the referee blew for a dodgy looking foul on the Brazilian captain. Fortunately, the ref asked the lads in the VAR room for a second opinion, and he rightly reversed his decision.
But it didn’t bother Brazil who kept on bombing forward, and with one minute of injury time played, Philippe Coutinho arrived in the box in time to get on the end of a Roberto Firmino knockdown to spare Brazil’s blushes. Neymar sealed the win three minutes from time after Douglas Costa presented the most expensive player in the world with a tap-in.
Brazil faces Serbia in the final game knowing a point is enough to qualify. The Serbs have three points (versus the four of Brazil) after beating Costa Rica in their opening match, and showed in parts, against Switzerland that they will cause Brazil some problems.
Serbia opened the scoring against the Swiss thanks to a header from Aleksandr Mitrovic in the fifth minute, but Granit Xhaka equalised in the 52nd minute with a stunning left-foot strike. Serbia then became another victim of poor officiating when two Swiss defenders hauled Mitrovic down in the penalty area only for the referee to refuse to use VAR. Later in the 90th minute, Xherdan Shaqiri found some pace to break free from the Serb backline before coolly slotting home the late winner.
Switzerland trail Brazil on goal difference (both sides are on four points), but are the bookie’s favourites to go through as they play Costa Rica in the final game with the Costa Ricans already out of the competition.
What Are The Odds?
Group E (To Qualify)
World Cup Winners
Germany Leave it Late.
It’s not only the big teams from South America who have started this World Cup with the organisation of a bunch of toddlers singing “The Wheels on the Bus.”
Germany landed in Russia with hopes of becoming the first nation to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962, but Mexico hung those hopes on a nail in the sun, after beating them in the first game.
Joachim Low’s side came into their second tie against Sweden knowing a defeat would see them fail to make the knockout stages for the first time since 1938. A draw would leave their fate in the hand of the other three nations.
Low made several changes to the side that lost against Mexico, most notably Marco Reus coming in for the ineffective Mesut Ozil, but it was Sweden who looked the sharpest pencil in the case as they breezed forward with menace in the early exchanges.
Marcus Berg should have had a penalty when Jerome Boateng brought him down in the box, but the referee refused to use the technology at his disposal to make the right call. Had he done so, Germany would have been playing the match with ten men.
And then Sweden took the lead.
38-minutes registered on the clock when the usually perfect pass rate of Toni Kross hit a glitch midway between his penalty area and the halfway line. Viktor Claesson found Ola Toivonen with a peach of a ball, and the man who failed to score a single league goal this season brought the ball down wonderfully before chipping it over the onrushing Manuel Neuer.
Four champions had exited in the first round of the previous five tournaments.
Was Germany going to be a fifth in six?
Of course not.
They hadn’t lost back-to-back World Cup games since 1958, and they weren’t about to start now. Low brought Mario Gomez on for the second half, and he set up Reus to equalise with his first touch three minutes after the break.
Boateng finally received his just desserts in the 82nd minute when VAR helped send him for an early shower for his second bookable offence, and with almost the final kick of the game, Kroos curled an exquisite free-kick into the corner of the net after a tap back from that man Reus to more than make up for his earlier mistake.
All four sides can still go through to the knockout stages after Mexico beat South Korea 2-1. Carlos Vela opened the scoring from the spot in the 26th minute before Javier Hernandez made it two with a delightful breakaway goal with 25-minutes remaining. Son Heung-min scored the best goal of the tournament thus far in injury time, but it was nothing more than a consolation.
Germany face Korea, and Mexico square off against Sweden in the final group games.
1. Mexico – 6 pts
2. Germany – 3
3. Sweden – 3
4. South Korea – 0
Group B (To Qualify)
South Korea 40/1
World Cup Winners