Toni Kroos' late stunner puts Germany back in last-16 contention after beating Sweden
SOCHI, Russia -- Three points on Germany's dramatic 2-1 comeback win against Sweden at the World Cup.
1. Kroos stunner bails out Low and Germany
Toni Kroos kept Germany alive at Russia 2018 with a stunning winner five minutes into stoppage time against Sweden, but the world champions may still need to beat South Korea in their final group game to reach the knockout stages of the competition.
In a pulsating Group F clash in Sochi, Sweden claimed a first-half lead through Ola Toivonen that left Germany needing to score twice to maintain a realistic hope of qualifying for the round of 16.
Joachim Low's decision to introduce Mario Gomez at half-time was rewarded with the Stuttgart forward creating space for Marco Reus to equalise on 48 minutes, but despite heavy pressure, the Germans could not break down the stubborn Swedes as they chased the crucial second.
Jerome Boateng's dismissal for two yellow cards late in the game made life even more difficult for the Germans, but Real Madrid midfielder Kroos snatched victory with almost the last kick of the game after a lovely, curling free kick on the edge of the Sweden penalty area.
A draw would have left Germany needing Mexico to beat Sweden to have any hope of qualification, but Kroos' goal has now put the world champions back in control of their own destiny.
But things are still not simple for Low's team, who were without the dropped Mesut Ozil for the first time in 26 competitive games.
If they defeat South Korea and Sweden win against Mexico, three teams will finish on six points and therefore need to be separated on goal difference.
So while Germany live to fight another day, so do the Swedes, and this group could still have a dramatic, late twist.
2. Sweden deserve respect whether they advance or not
There is nothing stylish or eye-catching about Sweden, especially now that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has vacated the international stage, but Janne Andersson's team are as tough and organised as they come, and it took an almighty German effort to beat them in the dying seconds.
They came through a daunting qualification group that saw them edge out the Netherlands and a difficult Bulgaria team, and then they topped it off by beating Italy 1-0 in a two-legged playoff to make it to Russia.
So Germany went into this game knowing they would come up against a stubborn, determined outfit prepared to throw everything into getting the result they required.
Sweden also faced the Germans with a crucial lack of fear or trepidation. Many teams are beaten before they even start against Germany because of their formidable track record, but the Swedes were ready for the battle, and they matched the world champions for fitness, tenacity and tactical discipline.
Germany will now expect to make it into the round of 16 by beating South Korea in their final group.
But Sweden could also get through with a win against Mexico, and if they make it through, it would be a foolish opponent who dares to underestimate this Sweden team.
They are awkward and horrible to play against, and it will take very good and hard-working side to beat them.
3. Germany running out of steam two games in
Germany will still probably find a way into the knockout stage with a win against South Korea, and if they do, there is a danger that Low's players will have burned themselves out even before they get to the round of 16.
The Germans usually coast through the group stage with the minimum of fuss and effort, giving them a crucial physical advantage when the pressure begins to build in the semifinal and beyond.
But they have already played 180 draining minutes against Mexico and Sweden and must now throw everything at their final game against South Korea to get the win that will almost certainly get them through.
They might also need Sweden drop points against Mexico, and that is by no means certain, so Germany will burn physical and psychological energy as they run through the permutations needed to keep them alive in this World Cup.
Germany are usually the masters of peaking at the just the right moment in major tournaments, but they have misjudged it so far in Russia.
They were sluggish and complacent against Mexico, and they allowed Sweden to soak up pressure in Sochi before hitting them with Ola Toivonen's goal.
In the end, Kroos scored a potentially crucial winner deep in stoppage time, but how much has this win taken out of the Germans?
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_