There is a reason Germany have reached at least the semi-final stage of 21 of the past 27 World Cups and European Championships and there is a reason why they last exited this tournament at the first hurdle 80 years ago.

They simply never know when they are beaten, and on a truly extraordinary night at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, the world champions came from behind against Sweden to claim the most dramatic of last gasp victories and turn Group F on its head.

A point here would have left Germany's fate out of their hands. A draw between Mexico and Sweden in their final game would have seen Germany eliminated but a stunning stoppage time free-kick from Toni Kroos altered the dynamic and crushed Swedish hearts.

They really did not deserve this and Janne Andersson and his staff certainly did not deserve to be taunted by the German bench as they were at the final whistle, a scene that sparked some argy bargy on the touchline.


Sweden will certainly be nursing an acute sense of injustice after they were denied a stonewall penalty in the first half when Jerome Boateng - later sent off for two bookable offences - brought down Ola Toivonen.

But Kroos's free-kick was worthy of winning any game. For 45 minutes, Germany had been desperate but they rallied after the interval, with Marcos Reus cancelling out Toivonen's fine finish, before Kroos stepped up. His short free-kick was knocked back by Reus and the Bayern Munich midfielder curled his shot into the top corner. Sweden's players dropped to the floor while Germany celebrated violently.

First things first, it was a riveting game. Breathless, controversial, jaw-droppingly dramatic. The first 45 minutes alone would be worthy of a study on how to perfectly execute a counter-attacking game plan against opponents who seek to monopolise possession. Defensive strategists the world over will have marvelled at the way Sweden soaked up German pressure and then pounced on their mistakes with rapid raids on the transition.

They were as controlled and compact as those spaces left by Germany were pronounced, a clash of cultures and a vivid illustration of how there is more than one way to skin a cat. Joachim Low had reacted to that anaemic 1-0 defeat to Mexico in the opening game by making four changes.

The most notable casualty was Mesut Ozil, dropped for the first time at a World Cup or European Championship since making his senior debut nine years ago, despite a pre-match vote of confidence from Low. Sami Khedira, Marvin Plattenhardt and the injured Mats Hummels also made way and, yet, until Marco Reus pulled a goal back shortly after the restart, the changes made no discernible difference.

If anything, Germany were even more chaotic than they had been against Mexico and the fact they were still very much in this game at the start of the second period was down to a combination of Swedish profligacy, Manuel Neuer and some questionable officiating.

Don't mention the VAR. When Viktor Claesson sent Ola Toivonen scampering clear in the 12th minute, it set the tone for Swedish speed and success on the transition, and Germany's struggles to cope with it. The goal was just opening up for Toivonen as he shaped to shoot inside the penalty area when Jerome Boateng bundled the Sweden striker over through a combination of push and trip.

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is employed precisely for these sort of moments but, to the outrage of everyone on the Sweden bench, not to mention Toivonen, play merely carried on. It was to Sweden's enormous credit then that they simply dug deeper and grew in strength, organisation and conviction. Sweden had made just six passes to Germany's 122 in the first 10 minutes and 19 to the world champions' 169 15 minutes in but the only statistic that will have concerned them was the one that signalled they were a goal in front.

And what a goal it was, one that showcased all the virtues of Janne Andersson's side. From the tireless Marcus Berg intercepting a stray pass from Toni Kroos to the probing Claesson stroking a clever cross into Toivonen to the Toulouse forward cushioning the ball on his chest and holding off the desperate lunge of Antonio Rudiger to delicately lift the ball over the advancing Neuer, it was a masterclass in how to strike hard and fast.

The problem for Sweden is that they had enough chances after that to kill the game, but with opportunities for first Claesson and then Berg to extend the lead going begging, the door remained ajar for a German side who simply could not be as poor after the interval as they had been before it.

Still, the timing of Germany's equaliser was a real kick in the teeth for Sweden. They had defended doggedly, riding their luck in the second minute when Julian Draxler blasted a shot straight at a Swedish body after Timo Werner had capitalised on a mistake by Andreas Granqvist and Robin Olsen also made a good save from Ilkay Gundogan's deflected shot.

But the Swedes had been pretty flawless. Reus's goal, then, would provide a serious test of their mettle. A low cross from the left by Werner brushed the foot of Mario Gomez, on at half time for Draxler, and rolled into the path of Reus, who stabbed the ball home ahead of a despairing Ludwig Augustinsson.

How Sweden must have been rueing those missed chances at that point. Berg could not have done much better with his powerful angled header from Seb Larsson's free-kick, stealing ahead of Kroos, but Neuer dived full stretch to his right to tip the ball round a post.

More frustrating was Claesson's squandered opportunity. Germany had been undone once again on the transition. Emil Forsberg found himself in acres of space down the left channel and bent a wonderful cross with the outside of his right boot past Boateng and Rudiger and into Claesson, who made the mistake of trying to cut inside Jonas Hector rather than shoot first time.

Germany had lost Sebastian Rudy after just half an hour when he took an accidental boot to the face from Toivonen that resulted in blood splattering from his nose. This, though, was a fesity game, played right on the edge, with tackles flying around and no inch given. Mikael Lustig and Werner squared up a heavy challenge by the Sweden right back and next it was Albin Ekdal and Thomas Muller's turn to start pushing and shoving each other.

A red card seemed likely at some stage and so it materialised in the 82nd minute when Boateng was dismissed for a second yellow card after scything through Berg following an earlier handball. Germany were firmly in the ascendency and their numerical disadvantage would not change that. It had been a siege at times, with Low effectively playing 2-2-6 as they pushed for a winner.

Joshua Kimmich put a perfect cross on a plate for Reus on the hour but the Borussia Dortmund forward could not make contact as he tried a back heel and the chance went. Later Kroos plonked a fine cross on the head of Gomez but Olsen's save was outstanding. Then at the death Julian Brandt, a substitute, crashed a shot against a post. It was thrilling. Germany live to fight another day but their fate is out of their hands.

Then at the death Julian Brandt, a substitute, crashed a shot against a post. Germany must have thought their chance had gone there and then. Kroos, though, had other ideas. What a game. What a night.