Class, flair, skill and beauty were words that came to mind to describe Germany’s performance in the first 55 minutes of its match with Sweden, but the adjectives would change drastically in the last half hour as the team allowed four goals, allowing the contest to end in a 4-4 draw.
Miroslav Klose put Germany up with two goals in the first two minutes, and Per Mertesacker scored for the first time while wearing his country’s strips to put the world’s second-ranked team in firm command heading into halftime.
Thomas Muller crossed the ball to Mesut Ozil 10 minutes after play resumed, and the Real Madrid midfielder smashed the ball into the far corner of the net give his national teammate his second assist of the match.
Up 4-0, Germany looked to be a top-class side that would win its third World Cup Qualifier in as many attempts and storm into Brazil in 2014 ready to end Spain’s reign over international football.
But these visions of grandeur appear to have set in 30 minutes too early for the Germans, and the Swedes took full advantage of this. The team’s talisman, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, sparked his side with a brilliant header in the 62nd minute, and the momentum started shifting.
Just two minutes later, Mikael Lustig took advantage of lazy German defending and goalkeeping to pull Sweden to within two goals.
The team continued to put pressure on the faltering German back line, and the group's hesitancy and poor positioning became increasingly evident. Johan Elmander pulled Sweden to within a single goal in the 76th minute, and the anxiety in Olympic Stadium in Berlin reached a new peak.
A collective gasp of relief came from the German crowd when goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s worst mistake went unpunished in the 85th minute. The Bayern Munich man fired off of his line and failed to collect the ball. Sweden’s Tobias Sana ended up with the ball at his feet just outside the penalty area but failed to hit an empty net.
The collapse was not completed until stoppage time when Rasmus Elm volleyed a cross in the corner of the net, salvaging a point for his team and casting serious doubt over Germany’s ability to win a major tournament.
Germany entered the European Championships this summer as one of the favorites. The team was fantastic in group play, but a lackluster defensive performance in the semifinals led to a 2-1 defeat against Italy.
That inconsistency was compressed into a 90-minute match today, and the Germans proved that their often-shaky back line and youth give the team too many weaknesses to be considered a favorite when Brazil 2014 arrives.
Spain was not overly impressive in their qualifier today, missing a penalty kick and allowing France to tie the match in stoppage time. But La Roja faced a significantly more talented team, blew a much smaller lead and has three trophies from the last three major tournaments.
The monumentally disappointing performance from Germany today proves that the power balance in international football is still characterized by Spain and everyone else.