Having handed out six of the best to the Republic of Ireland four days earlier, confidence in the German camp would be high ahead of a return home to Berlin and the game against Sweden. While it had been raining goals in Dublin, Sweden had struggled to beat the Faroe Islands 2-1 in Tórshavn – and everyone expected no less than the win that would take the Mannschaft to four wins out of four and clear at the top of the group table before a five-month wait before their double-header against Kazakstan in the spring of 2013.
At half-time, that confidence would be even higher, with Joachim Löw’s side having delivered what was arguably their most accomplished forty-five minutes of the calendar year. They were three goals up, and had completely dominated their weak and clueless opponents. Ten minutes into the second half three would become four, and surely it would be just a matter of time before there would be a fifth and after that even a sixth. As in Dublin, they were rampant.
If anybody had left at that stage only to come back and be told that four more goals would be scored in the final half hour, their first thought would have been that it could have ended 8-0. Or, if Sweden had been exceptionally lucky, 7-1. Nobody could have ever predicted that a team that had been outplayed to such an extent could even get on the scoresheet once, let alone four times. Yet there it was on the final scoreboard, clear as crystal:
DEUTSCHLAND 4:4 SCHWEDEN.
In my time following the Nationalmannschaft – over thirty years – I had never seen anything like this. Yes, there had been some stinkers where four goals had been conceded in double-quick time. The 1999 Confederations’ Cup in Mexico, where a 0-0 scoreline against Brazil after an hour turned into a 4-0 thrashing in the space of twenty-five minutes. The infamous debacle in Munich, where England scored four goals in the space of half an hour either side of half-time. The utterly dismal 5-1 beating in Bucharest against Romania, where the home side hit a twenty-two minute purple patch in the first half to lead 4-0 in a match where they could conceivably have scored ten.
The difference was in all of these cases Germany were arguably brittle from the beginning, and there for the taking. In Berlin on the other hand, they had been the better side – by a country mile – for an hour. Nobody in their worst nightmares would have predicted the mental collapse, tactical breakdown, call it what you will. They were simply sucked into the Mälström.
It was the first time any German national side had blown a four-goal lead – with the exception of that famous match at the Stade Olympique de Colombes in 1943 that saw an Allied XI bring themselves level at the death with a bicycle kick from Trinidadian Luis Fernandez – who looked a suspiciously like Pelé. To make things worse, the Germans had a last-minute penalty saved by a Canadian stand-in ‘keeper called Hatch (a dead ringer for Sylvester Stallone) and then had to witness a pitch invasion by local French fans and the subsequent escape of their opponents.
That’s right. The only time the Germans had ever pressed the self-destruction button after leading 4-0 was in a early 1980s movie.
Facts and Stats
This would be the thirty-sixth meeting between Germany and Sweden, with the Germans having won fourteen and the Scandinavians thirteen (including a penalty shootout victory in Berlin in 1988), with seven draws. In ten competitive matches however the Mannschaft had only been beaten once – the controversial World Cup semi-final in Göteborg in 1958 where the Swedes had profited from both home advantage and a series of curious interpretations of the rules by Hungarian referee István Zsolt. Since 1990 the reunified German side had played Sweden five times – winning four and drawing one.
In what was an interesting twist to the pre-match stats, Sweden had played Germany in Berlin four times previously – and had never lost. In addition to two friendly wins before 1945 (4-1 in 1924 and 3-2 in 1942) the Blågult had held the Germans to a 1-1 draw in a World Cup qualifier in 1964 and had emerged victorious on penalties after another 1-1 stalemate in the four-team tournament played in the spring of 1988.
The Team and Tactics
There would be few tactical changes for the Nationaltrainer to make: one would not usually change a winning formula, and with the Swedes like to play a similar defensive game to the Irish the approach would be much the same. Play the same way, 4-2-3-1.
Personnel-wise there would be two changes. With skipper Philipp Lahm returning from suspensions he was largely expected to fill his favoured position at right-back instead of Jérôme Boateng, but a late injury to left-back Marcel Schmelzer would see the versatile Lahm switch out to the left, with Boateng retaining his position. Ahead of the back four Sami Khedira – withdrawn at half-time against the Irish and unfit to start – would be replaced by Toni Kroos.
Unsurprisingly, Swedish coach Erik Hamrén would name a defensive-looking starting eleven, making four changes from the side that had grabbed all three points in the Faroes courtesy of a late winner from captain Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Germany would be into second gear almost immediately, and the crowd hardly had time to settle down before the first attack came with Thomas Müller hitting the post. With the visitors adopting a defensive line the Germans were quick to exploit all available space, and were looking dangerous on both flanks and down the centre. Winger Marco Reus had delivered an outstanding performance in Dublin, and would quickly pick up where he had left off as set up Miroslav Klose for the opener with eight minutes on the clock. It was a fine finish by the Lazio striker, who would double his tally seven minutes later following what was a world-class piece of approach play initiated by Reus.
The game could very easily have been won by half-time, and some six minutes before the break an intelligent header across the Swedish box by Müller would find the unmarked Per Mertesacker, who swept in what was only his second international goal – the first coming in the 2005 Confederations Cup.
Midfield maestro Mesut Özil would score a fourth on fifty-five minutes to rub salt into Swedish wounds, but it would be at this point there the home team would get caught out. After a series of sloppy passes and a questionable challenge on Müller, sub Kim Källström’s cross would be perfectly timed for Ibrahimović to beat Neuer easily. The second goal two minutes later would be a catalogue of disasters, as Holger Badstuber’s poor positioning allowed right-back Mikael Lustig to steal in behind him before stabbing an angled shot that went straight through Manuel Neuer and into the back of the German net.
It was an uncharacteristic gaffe from the German Torhüter, who at that moment looked more like Manuel the bumbling waiter from Fawlty Towers than the rock behind the German defence.
The tide had clearly turned, with the crisp and effortless German passing of the first half having turned into a series of poorly-directed balls with possession being given away regularly. With their opponents chasing down every 50/50 ball, the German players suddenly found that they had been unceremoniously transported out of their comfort zone. When substitute Alexander Kačaniklić set up Jonas Elmander to make it 4-3 with just under a quarter of an hour remaining, the Swedes had truly started to believe; meanwhile, the Germans found themselves unable to settle down. They simply panicked.
Sweden should probably have equalised earlier when substitute Tobias Sana failed to find the empty net after Neuer had failed to collect the ball, and even though the Rasmus Elm’s equaliser should have been disallowed for Ibrahimović’s clear shove on Mertesacker, it was least the Hamrén’s side deserved.
Conclusions and Ratings
In a match like this, it is always hard to rate the team. Usually results like this come in matches where there is an even ebb and flow, not those where one team has been completely on top for two-thirds of the piece – where a player all primed to get a Note 2 ends up with a five or even a six. That first sixty minutes would see an accomplished performance from the Germans, with their opponents quite literally squeezed into submission. From the left came the pacy breaks from Lahm and Reus, on the right we’d see Boateng combine effectively with Müller, while through the centre Özil had established almost complete command. The German defence had found themselves with little to do, and ‘keeper Neuer might as well have taken a nap.
Klose’s sixty-sixth and sixty-seventh goals in the Schwarz und Weiß would set the tone, and when centre-back Mertesacker volleyed in the third six minutes before the break there was only ever going to be one winner. Or so we thought.
Although it would not be truly realised until the closing stages, the key change would take place in the second half when Swedish coach Hamrén would replace the staid and somewhat predictable Samuel Holmén and Pontus Wernbloom with the more skillful Kačaniklić and Källström; combined with skipper Ibrahimović playing further up the field, the German defence suddenly found themselves with plenty to do. Their inability to adapt would be their undoing.
The second Swedish goal was arguably the worst of the evening, with both Badstuber and Neuer left looking like Sunday park amateurs. By this time the momentum had quite clearly shifted towards the visitors, who with nothing to lose continued to keep the pressure up on a German defence that had suddenly forgotten their lines. Löw himself would also make his own contribution to his side’s eventual collapse by removing the hard-working Müller – probably the most competent of the attacking midfield trio in providing additional cover for those behind him – with Mario Götze, a player not noted for his defensive abilities. The substitution was as bizarre as is was inexplicable.
The weakness of the German defence – some may say technical ineptitude – has been something of a constant throughout the Klinsmann and Löw eras, but never has this been exposed so dramatically. Nobody would have expected Sweden – not the most prolific side by any means – to score four goals, but the signs had been there for a long time. Up front this current German side may have an abundance of talent, but this has been accompanied by what has become a frustrating habit of conceding soft goals on a regular basis. They might have scored six against the Irish, but their blotting the copybook in injury time was symptomatic of this ongoing defensive malaise.
Since the beginning of 2011 the Mannschaft have struggled to keep a clean sheet: in twenty-six matches played they have managed to shut out the opposition on only five occasions, and although they have scored sixty-eight goals they have shipped a staggering twenty-nine. The record in 2012 has been worse still: in the thirteen games played so far, the defence has managed three clean sheets – against Israel, Portugal and the Faroe Islands – and has been breached on twenty-two occasions at an average of 1.69 goals per game.
However while some commentators, analysts and bloggers will debate over whether Sweden’s fourth goal should have even been allowed and the issue of Löw’s arguably bizarre substitutions, what we should be looking at was the attitude and general demeanour of the German team with less than two minutes of additional time to play.
Just moments before Elm would send the otherwise stoic Swedes into paroxysms of ecstasy, Germany had won a free-kick at the other end of the pitch. Rather than get on with it, Bastian Schweinsteiger would try and buy a few seconds by faffing about – earning himself a truly stupid yellow card in the process. Then, rather than keep take the free-kick properly or even keep the ball, he played a curious pass back to Boateng, who in turn played it back to Neuer. The German ‘keeper – by this time a cross between Mr Angry and a gibbering wreck – only succeeded in lumping an aimless ball back up the pitch – straight to a yellow shirt. Of course, we all know what happened next.
The German ‘keeper had a quiet first hour – but that was simply because the had nothing to do. He could do little to prevent the first Swedish goal, but made a complete hash of the second by letting the ball squirm through his legs at his near post. After that he was a bag of nerves, with his finally act being to punt the ball aimlessly up the field to set up the final and fatal Swedish attack.
Was at fault for being out of position for the second goal and could have done better for the fourth, but overall it was a reasonable display by the right-back. Showed strength going forward, and was largely untroubled until the pressure was applied in the seocnd half.
The big man had a decent first half, and having had to do next to nothing against an impotent Swedish forward line was even able to make his way up the field and score his second international goal. Was just as culpable as anyone for the defensive collapse in the last thirty minutes, and should perhaps have been awarded a free-kick when he was bundled over by Ibrahimović moments before Elm swept home the equaliser.
After having to do little in the way of defensive duties for an hour it call fell down like the proverbial ton of bricks on the FC Bayern man. With the Swedes upping the ante and applying pressure he fell to pieces, and was guilty of poor positioning and judgement on a number of occasions. A truly dismal performance, softened only by the fact that he is not a natural central defender.
A decent game for the skipper, who looked good going forward out on the left and working with Marco Reus. Was probably the least guilty of the four-man defensive unit, but his abilities as captain will be questioned after the team collapsed under the pressure. Not one harsh word, not one angry face: would Michael Ballack have allowed everything fall around him?
Looked good for the first hour as the Mannschaft lorded it over their beleaguered opponents, but became increasingly anonymous as the pressure began to build. The defensive midfielder should have been there to provide a second layer of defence, but seemed to go AWOL when he was really needed.
Kroos is a mighty fine player, but he is not a defensive midfielder. When the team were purring and moving forward Kroos would be in his element, but when called upon to defend he was far from comfortable. On form, Kroos probably deserves a spot further up the pitch: defensively, Germany clearly missed the control and cool head of Sami Khedira.
Some may argue that the FC Bayern man had a disappointing evening, but I’d disagree. He should perhaps have scored early on, but through the game caused problems for the Swedish defence with his pace and positioning. Combined well with Boateng down the right, and was involved in the buildup to all four German goals. Given that the team needed fighters on the pitch when spirits were flagging at 4-2, his being replaced by Mario Götze after sixty-seven minutes bordered on the bizarre.
Was central to operations during the first hour, and was consistently dangerous. Scored a well-taken goal – his fifth in the last four games – to put the Mannschaft four goals up ten minutes into the second half, but after that was reduced to being a peripheral figure as the action moved towards the other end of the pitch.
Was involved in the opening two goals, and once again showed off his guile, skill and pace. Was a constant thorn in the side of the Swedish defence, but suffered like everybody else when the game turned midway through the second half. Was replaced by Lukas Podolski with two minutes left.
A fine evening for the Lazio-based striker, who scored two excellent goals in the first fifteen minutes to give his side a flying start and take him within one strike of Gerd Müller’s long-lasting record of sixty eight international goals. Was quieter in the second half, but he has surely silenced his doubters for now.
Came on for Thomas Müller with the score at 4-2, and was unable to offer anything of note. With the momentum having swung in the Swedes’ favour, it was a questionable subsitution by the Nationaltrainer.
Another strange subsitution saw the Arsenal winger come on for Reus with two minutes of normal time remaining, the only real benefit being Podolski move to 105 international caps, two clear of Franz Beckenbauer and level with Jürgen Kohler.
Neuer (6), Boateng (3.5), Mertesacker (4.5), Badstuber (6), Lahm (3), Schweinsteiger (5), Kroos (4), Müller (3), Özil (2), Reus (2), Klose (1.5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Götze (4).
Neuer (6), Boateng (4), Mertesacker (4), Badstuber (5), Lahm (2), Schweinsteiger (4), Kroos (3), Müller (3), Özil (2), Reus (2), Klose (2). Substitutes: Götze (4).
Neuer (5), Boateng (4), Mertesacker (5), Badstuber (6), Lahm (3), Schweinsteiger (4.5), Kroos (4), Müller (2.5), Özil (1.5), Reus (2.5), Klose (2).