Three goals up at half-time. Four to the good an hour in. Some fantastic one-touch football, some of the best stuff we have seen from the Nationalmannschaft this year. Two goals from Miroslav Klose to see him go one behind Gerd Müller’s long-standing international goal-scoring record. More sublime play from the effervescent Marco Reus. Even a goal from Per Mertesacker – a volley at that.
It couldn’t get much better.
Some supporters in Sweden had switched off their television sets by now, utterly downcast and convinced that the eleven useless meatballs in yellow shirts were going to get whipped by six or seven.
Oh, football can be so cruel.
Germany had never failed to win having taken a four-goal lead. Never ever. In fact, very few professional teams would fail to win having taken a four-goal lead. But those Swedish supporters that had decided to go to bed early or switch over to the repeat of Wallander would miss out on something that was truly special.
For us Germany supporters however, this evening of glory in Berlin would very quickly turn into the stuff of nightmares. The warm glow inside would be replaced by a sense of inexplicable emptiness and disbelief.
After a hour of sublime play and almost nonchalant dominance against an opponent that had been more or less invisible, we would witness half an hour of shock-inducing madness that would take us all back to the dark days of the early 2000s and the regime of Erich Ribbeck. Thirty minutes that would see this talented bunch of young players suddenly be transformed into a white and black blob of blancmange in the face of one world-class striker leading a third-class attack. Even the usually stoic Manuel Neuer would end up looking like a bowl of not-quite-set jelly.
It would be the third minute of additional time when the strawberry blond Rasmus Elm would sweep the ball past the German ‘keeper to complete the impossible comeback. Impossible, but with a curious sense of the inevitable about it.
Coach Jogi Löw would make two changes to the eleven that had started against the Republic of Ireland four days earlier, with skipper Philipp Lahm returning from suspension and taking the place of left-back Marcel Schmelzer who had pulled out injured – meaning that Jérôme Boateng would retain his place at right-back. Elsewhere, the injury to defensive midfielder Sami Khedira would see Toni Kroos given a start alongside FC Bayern München team mate Bastian Schweinsteiger.
It would be a cool and slightly damp evening in the German capital, with rain clearly in the air as Portuguese referee Pedro Proença led both sides out in front of a crowd of just under seventy-three thousand – including Bundeskanzler Angela Merkel who had probably taken the short trip down from the Reichstag. The home side would wear their traditional ensemble, while the opponents – captained by the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimović – would be dressed in their familiar yellow shirts, blue shorts and yellow socks.
1 min. Sweden get things underway. Germany are quick to press for the ball, and almost immediately seize possession.
2 mins. The first chance. The home side spread the play from left to right, and Jérôme Boateng exchanges passes with Miroslav Klose before making his way on the right towards the byline. The right-back sends a firm low cross in the box, and his FC Bayern team mate Thomas Müller arrives at the near post and forces Swedish ‘keeper Andreas Isaksson to make a reflex save from close range. Müller gets another bite of the cherry as the rebound comes straight back to him, but only finds Isaksson again who deflects the ball onto the post before it is hacked away by a yellow shirt.
4 mins. The visitors are finding it hard to keep hold of the ball, and Boateng is looking particularly dangerous down the right flank.
5 mins. The Swedes finally get the ball, and makes quickly into the German half. Midfielder Samuel Holmén picks up the ball just outside the eigteen yard box and sends a well-struck shot over the crossbar.
8 mins. Boateng does well to win the ball, and play is quickly switched to the left. Skipper Philipp Lahm picks up the ball and plays a neat one-two with Toni Kroos before finding the past-advancing Marco Reus. The Borussia Dortmund man glides to the byline, and plays the perfect cutback for Klose, who lashes the ball into the left with his left foot from ten yards. It’s Klose’s sixth-sixth international goal. 1-0.
11 mins. Joachim Löw’s side are looking confortable, and this opening ten minutes is in marked contrast to the start in Dublin. Plenty of possession, and lots of neat passing and excellent movement off the ball.
12 mins. Germany win a corner out on the left, But Reus’ well-placed inswinging ball is easily cleared by the Swedish defence.
15 mins. Smooth as you like. Some stunning play from the Mannschaft, who combine down the left to set up Klose for his second in the space of seven minutes to double the lead. After one intricate move breaks down, Mesut Özil plays the ball back to Reus, who once again charges to the byline following two perfect interchanges with Kroos and Müller. The winger once again cuts the ball back into the box, where Klose is on hand to stab it home from close range at the second attempt. A fantastic move, with world-class short passing in the opposition box. Klose notches up goal number sixty-seven to move just one behind the great Gerd Müller. 2-0.
18 mins. More pressure from the home side, and Isaksson is looking shaky in the Swedish goal. Erik Hamrén’s side are still trying to keep numbers behind the ball, but their tactics are not having any effect on a German side that has had the perfect start.
20 mins. A long Swedish punt forward almost finds Zlatan Ibrahimović as centre-back Holger Badstuber is slow to spot the danger, but the ball is safely collected by Manuel Neuer.
28 mins. Özil is clipped by Rasmus Elm some twenty-five yards out. Reus’ free-kick is on target, but is easily gathered by Isaksson.
32 mins. Sweden are trying to push up the field a little more, but the side are taking it in their stride as they continue to pass the ball around confidently. Boateng sends another dangerous high cross into the Swedish box, but the defence clears the danger.
35 mins. A quick break through the centre this time, as Özil finds Müller who plays a neat back-flick out to Boateng. The right-back sends the ball low into the box, but a yellow shirt gets there ahead of Reus.
36 mins. And again. This time Kroos finds Özil, who tries to guide the ball into the path of the fast-advancing Reus. The pass is a little too strong though, and Sweden clear.
38 mins. Germany are creating chances almost every minute now. Özil picks up the ball out on the left inside the Swedish half, and plays a quick one-two with Kroos before slipping the deftest of passes for Reus to chase. Reus forces Isaksson into yet another close-range save, before Özil follows up to send a shot that is deflected by a defender into the side netting from an acute angle.
39 mins. Reus’ corner is cleared, but Germany quickly seize possession once more. Lahm finds Reus in space out on the left-hand touchline, and the ball is quickly swept into the Swedish box. The ball takes an awkward bounce and appears to come off Klose’s arm, but ends up with to Müller is in space out on the right on the edge of the six-yard box. Unselfishly Müller heads the ball back into the danger zone, and fullback Per Mertesacker arrives unmarked to volley the ball home from seven yards with his right foot.
40 mins. Isaksson is booked for protesting.
44 mins. It’s a keep-ball session now for the home side, as they look to see things through to half-time.
45 + 1 mins. Klose is almost put through by Özil, but has a poor first touch before the ball is hustled behind for a corner. The Eckball is swung in by Reus and punched clear by Isaksson.
45 + 2 mins. The Portuguese referee blows for half-time, signalling the end to what has arguably been the Mannschaft’s most polished forty-five minutes of 2012. Three goals scored, though it could have been many more. They have dominated the play, and will look to keep up the momentum and finish the job in the second half. They only had two at half-time against the Irish, and went on to score six.
46 mins. Sweden have made two changes at the start of the second half, as Alexander Kačaniklić comes on for Holmén and Kim Kallström replaces Pontus Wernbloom. Germany kick off.
49 mins. Sweden win a corner out on the left, and the ball flies over Badstuber towards Ibrahimović, who steals behind Boateng but is unable to connect.
50 mins. It’s almost a fourth following yet another sreies of deft German touches. Özil picks the ball up just outside the Swedish penalty area and finds Reus, who plays the ball inside to Klose. The striker taps a delicious first-time backheel into the path of Müller, who cannot lift it over Isaksson who slides to make the save.
52 mins. Klose is flagged for offide as he looks to get ahead of the Swedish defence. It’s a marginal but ultimately correct decision from the assistant referee.
53 mins. Germany are on the attack again, and Bastian Schweinsteiger unleashes a left-footed strike from distance that flies wide of the right post.
55 mins. Sweden try to pass they way out of the own half, but the move breaks down and the home side break quickly. Müller picks the ball up out on the right just inside the Swedish half, and sprints forward and into the box before floating a cross out to the left. Özil is there to collect, and the midfield playmaker chests the ball down and steadies himself before sweeping a low left-footed shot across the helpless Isaksson and into the bottom right-hand corner of the net. 4-0, and the game is surely over now.
57 mins. Sweden win a corner out on the right, but the ball is well collected by Neuer who gets a rare touch of the ball.
58 mins. Sweden are able to put a few passes together, but the move ends with the ball sent flying harmlessly over the German crossbar.
60 mins. Another good build-up from the Mannschaft as they nonchalantly sweep towards the German goal, but Müller miskicks as he tried a long-range effort.
62 mins. Müller appears to be fouled by Kallström as he advances towards the halfway line, but the referee waves play on. Kallström picks up the ball and moves away from the stricken Müller before sending a high and looping ball into the German box. Badstuber fails to keep a close eye on Ibrahimović, who appears to amble in before sending a firm header past Neuer. 4-1.
64 mins. Germany are suddenly starting to look shaky at the back, and Sweden’s tactic of pinging the ball high into the box is causing trouble for the defence. Ibrahimović’s cross is headed upwards by Boateng and then hastily punched away by Neuer, but the Swedes regain possession and come forward again. Kallström sends in another high ball, catching out Badstuber who sees right-back Mikael Lustig sneak him behind him. Lustig controls the ball brilliantly before stabbing a right-footed shot that appears to squirm straight through Neuer and into the back of the net. It’s two goals in as many minutes for the Swedes. 4-2.
65 mins. The momentum appears to have shifted completely against the home side, and suddenly almost every long Swedish ball is looking dangerous.
67 mins. With the team on the back foot and Sweden upping the ante, Joachim Löw decides to make a change as Mario Götze comes on for Müller. It’s a slightly curious substition.
69 mins. Germany are still looking for a fifth goal, and a good move down the left finds Kroos whose well-struck right-footed effort forces Isaksson into a spectacular but fairly easy save.
71 mins. The men in yellow are continuing to apply pressure on the German goal, and win a corner. The defence are at sixes and sevens, and just about manage to clear the danger.
76 mins. Swedish left-back Behrang Safari breaks and sends a long ball down the left to Kačaniklić, with Boateng completely out of position. Even with his pace the German right-back has no chance of making his ground, and Kačaniklić beats Mertesacker before cutting the ball sharply back into the box. There to meet it is is Johan Elmander, who gets ahead of the almost static Badstuber to find the low right-hand corner of the net with a superbly-timed left-footed finish. Jogi Löw is apoplectic. 4-3.
78 mins. The German game is looking completely shot, and even every pass is looking suspect with a yellow shirt waiting to pounce. Swedish coach Hamrén makes his final change, sending debutant Tobias Sana on for Sebastian Larsson.
81 mins. Lahm breaks quickly down the left, the German move breaks down in the Swedish box. The quick sharp passing of the first half is a distant memory now.
82 mins. Özil is still looking sharp going forward, and breaks at pace down the right before sending the ball back across the pitch to Götze who is in space on the left. The substitute has time to take the ball inside Lustig and have a shot, but instead takes far too many touches and is forced to play it back to Lahm. The skipper jinks inside before setting up Kroos, whose right-footed shot from some twenty-five yards out pings off the foot of the left upright. So close, yet so far.
83 mins. Safari is dispossessed in his own half, and Özil lets fly with a long-distance effort that flies just over the crossbar before bounding off the top of the net,
84 mins. With the ball going off for a Swedish throw-in Reus needlessly boots the ball into the crowd, and is booked for timewasting.
85 mins. Sweden are resorting to route one tactics now, and Isaksson hoofs the ball down the pitch where it evades almost everyone. Mertesacker is ahead of Elmander and looks favourite to reach the ball first, but is outpaced by the Swedish number eleven. Neuer then comes for the ball and makes a complete hash of it, and Elmander rolls the ball back inside to Sana who has the gaping goal at his mercy. The youngster has plenty of time, but sidefoots his shot high over the target.
86 mins. Lukas Podolski is ready and waiting by the touchline. Why?
88 mins. Podolski is on, for Reus. The Arsenal man is winning his 105th cap for the Nationalmannschaft, but one has to wonder what Löw is trying to achieve.
89 mins. Lahm dilly-dallies with a throw-in, and is booked by the overly fussy Mr. Proença. The throw is awarded to Sweden, Isaksson sends in another long punt forward, and Ibrahimović tries to play the ball into space. Neuer collects.
90 mins. Three minutes of additional time have been signalled. It’s going to be a very long three minutes for the home supporters, who must be praying for this to end.
90 + 1 mins. Germany win a right-sided free-kick halfway inside the Swedish half when Klose is felled, but proceed to make a complete mess of it. Schweinsteiger is booked for time-wasting, and rather than using the free-kick productively Özil, Schweinsteiger and Boateng send the ball back to Neuer who punts it straight back to a yellow shirt.
90 + 3 mins. It’s surely the last attack of the match, and the Swedes are chasing everything. An Ibrahimović effort is charged down by Mertesacker, but the Germans are unable to clear and the yellow shirts come at them again. Kallström sends yet another high ball into the box, and Ibrahimović appears to impede Mertesacker with his arm as the German fullback tries to clear. The referee does nothing. The ball is loose, and falls to Rasmus Elm who is in space in the middle of the penalty area. The Swedish number six makes no mistake on the half-volley, sweeping the ball past Neuer and into the bottom left-hand side of the German goal. 4-4.
90 + 4 mins. That was the last shot of the match. The referee blows for full time, and what was after an hour looking like a clear German victory has finished off as a scarcely believable 4-4 draw. They say football is a game of two halves – well, not quite. In this case it was a game of two-thirds and one-third. Unglaublich.
As the Swedes celebrate their dramatic equaliser, the deflated Germans collapse to the floor. The final twenty minutes had been agonising, as the Mannschaft seemed to deteriorate as if afflicted with some disease that turned their brains to mush and their legs to jelly. A Swedish Elm disease.
v Sweden, Olympiastadion, Berlin, 16.10.2012
Klose 8., 15., Mertesacker 39., Özil 55. / Ibrahimović 62., Lustig 64., Elmander 76., Elm 90.+3.
Germany: Neuer – Boateng, Mertesacker, Badstuber, Lahm (c) – Kroos, Schweinsteiger – Müller (67. Götze), Özil, Reus (88. Podolski) – Klose
Sweden: Isaksson – Lustig, Granqvist, J. Olsson, Safari – Wernbloom (46. Källström), Holmén (46. Kačaniklić) – Larsson, Ibrahimović (c), R. Elm – Elmander
Referee: Pedro Proença (Portugal)
Assistants: José Veiga Trigo, Bertino Miranda (Portugal)
Fourth Official: Duarte Gomes (Portugal)
Yellow Cards: Reus 83., Lahm 89., Schweinsteiger 90.+2. / Isaksson 40.
Red Cards: – / –
Attempts on Target: 11/ 4
Attempts off Target: 7 / 8
Corners: 5 / 6
Fouls Committed: 4 / 10