Less than an hour into Tuesday's match, Germany were well on their way to a second consecutive rout in World Cup Qualifying as they took on Sweden. Fresh off their 6-1 hammering of Ireland in Dublin, Joachim Loew's men were 4-0 up against the Scandinavians. However, what seemed to be a routine finale turned sour as the Swedes pulled three goals back in under a quarter hour, before Rasmus Elm fired home an equalizer in the final seconds of injury time.
The match was a roller coaster and brought out the good, the bad, and the ugly of both sides. Read on for a breakdown of the most important talking points to take from Tuesday's eight-goal thriller.
During the next international break, Loew should dedicate a full training session to having his players write repeatedly the following statement on a chalkboard:
"A football match lasts 90 minutes."
It may be obvious, but the modern German football generation seems to have failed to internalize this simple fact. In the most recent round of the Champions League, Dortmund and Schalke both conceded last-gasp equalizers after apparently doing enough to earn three points. Against Ireland, the Mannschaft's lax defending was punished by a late and unnecessary goal. And against Sweden, after playing devastatingly successful football for an hour, Germany's disinterest in playing out the final 30 minutes saw all their good work erased.
No team should ever lose a four-goal lead—certainly not at home, and definitely not in such short a time span. Germany were taught a lesson on Tuesday, and deservedly so. We'll see if it sticks.
To anyone who has followed Germany in recent years, Elm's equalizer was a long time coming. Once Sweden scored their third and the Nationalelf began to look worried, the fourth seemed inevitable. The simple reason was that Loew's side tried to play an entirely unfamiliar game.
Germany have a fantastic, star-studded team. Their talent in a 23-man squad can match that of any other; their ability to play short, one-touch passes in and around the penalty area is a sight to behold. But when it comes to holding a lead and playing defensively, they have little experience and less competence.
With Toni Kroos as a holding midfielder and two diminutive figures in the form of Badstuber and Philipp Lahm in their back four, Germany lacked the physical qualities to "park the bus." It's a tactic to which Loew has almost never resorted, and it thus comes as no surprise that they conceded. Put in the same situation again, the trainer would have been much wiser to either make defensive substitutions or to continue to push his team to attack. Trying to defend with the team he had towards the end of the match was foolhardy.
Holger Badstuber is in many ways an excellent defender. He reads the game well, has an uncanny ability to ward off danger before it develops, and is excellent with the ball at his feet. However, for all his strengths, the Bayern Munich man has some extremely glaring—and rather easily exploitable—flaws.
At 1.89 meters, Badstuber is not exactly short, but he is not particularly tall for his position. At 78 kg, however, he may as well be a fullback. Badstuber may have intelligence and instincts, but he lacks the musculature of most other top central defenders. He's slow and unable to jump very high, and when a cross comes into the penalty box, he is often outmuscled. Sweden took full advantage of Badstuber's physical deficiencies, sending cross after cross in his area. And although their goals were not always the most attractive, they counted just the same as any other.
Badstuber seems to have a fragile ego: If he makes one mistake, he'll often make several more. On Tuesday, he was slow to react for Sweden's first and third goals, and had the ball chipped over his head for the second. This is not the type of character Loew will want in a major tournament, when it's vital for players to stay focused and rebound if given the chance. Badstuber never looked comfortable at Euro 2012. It's an unnecessary gamble to assume he'll change before the World Cup.
Loew has other options available, and one is Per Mertesacker. Although very lanky, the Arsenal man is taller, and the length of his limbs makes up for his sleight stature. He is far more dependable in the air, and he is having an excellent season for club and country thus far. Mertesacker has an abundance of experience and is a proven quantity in major tournaments. After losing his starting role due to an ankle injury, he's definitely earned another chance.
One will find it hard to find a goal more brilliantly worked than Miroslav Klose's second. There admittedly are many great solo efforts every week: Mazy dribbles, long-ranged screamers, overhead volleys...but to see four players exchange five passes, all with the first touch, is a real rarity. It requires not only skill, but a deep understanding among all players involved. And that is very, very rare.
Over the last week, Mesut Ozil and Marco Reus seem to have developed a telepathic connection, as though they're both controlled by the same brain. Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller proved they're on the same page as well, and the quartet combined again and again in truly stunning manner.
Other teams may have attackers individually on par with Germany's, but the Mannschaft just might boast the best combination. When they're focused and want to score, they do so at will.
The Swedes may have only edged the Faroe Islands and put a modest two goals past Kazakhstan, but based on their performance on Tuesday, it's clear that at their best, they are well worth a spot at the World Cup.
Naysayers will point out the fact that Germany scored four times, but any team would have struggled to shut down the hosts, and the play leading up to each of Klose's goals was almost unstoppable. The Swedes dared to believe at 4-0 down that they could come back into the game, and they did the unthinkable.
The Scandinavians have a long way to go if they are to finish in the top two in Group C, but they showed real heart on Tuesday and did what no team managed to do in Euro 2012 qualifiers in taking a point against Germany. Austria and Ireland have it all to do if they are to catch up.