As Russia 2018 turns two weeks old, it’s only fitting that we see our first major upset of the tournament, and Day Fourteen delivered just that.
All giants have to fall at some stage, but nobody quite expected this global heavyweight to do so in such a manner.
The holders are out on another day of high drama at this World Cup through a result that sent seismic shocks reverberating their way across not only the country or the continent, but the globe.
Holders halted by super South Korea
Defending champions Germany were humiliated and eliminated in the opening round of a World Cup for the first time since 1938 after being stunned by a spirited South Korean side.
The Germans’ shock defeat means that of the last five World Cups, the holders have been dumped from the competition at the group stage on four occasions.
South Korea also bowed out despite their two dramatic stoppage time goals due to Sweden beating Mexico, but the Asians appear to have made friends for life across the globe as they finally gained revenge for the semi-final defeat to Germany in their home tournament of 2002.
A cagey opening 45 minutes was one to forget, however the second half was anything but as news of an early Sweden goal filtered through – piling pressure on the Germans.
South Korea’s goalkeeping hero and man-of-the-match Hyun-Woo Cho made his first big save just minutes into the half to deny Leon Goretzka. The midfielder was found unmarked and eight yards out by a floated Joshua Kimmich cross, but his free header was brilliantly palmed away by Cho to safety.
The young full-back seemed to be one of the biggest German threats with his crossing from the right, and he found substitute Mario Gomez with another delivery but this time the header was straight at the goalkeeper.
With Sweden doubling their lead, there was a real sense of urgency from supporters that Germany needed to attack, but in truth there was very little response from Joachim Löw’s uninspiring side until late on.
Marco Reus and Saturday’s saviour Toni Kroos both fired shots over in the final ten minutes, but the big chance fell to defender Mats Hummels.
Mesut Özil curled in a beauty of a cross from the right and found the big defender who had ghosted into the area unmarked, but he misjudged the flight of the ball in an attempt to head it, seeing it fly high and wide of the target off his shoulder from six yards out.
The board from the fourth official showed six minutes of added time, but the late twist wasn’t to favour the Germans.
Captain Heung-Min Son whipped in a poor corner for South Korea, but Germany failed to deal with it as the ball broke for an unmarked Young-Gwon Kim who fired in off Manuel Neuer from inside the six yard box.
The defender wheeled away in celebration only to be faced by the linesman’s offside flag, but replays told a different story.
After consulting with VAR, American referee Mark Geiger saw that the touch which carried the ball through to Kim was actually from the unlucky Kroos, and the goal stood, which sparked wild celebrations in Kazan – despite the fact South Korea knew they were heading out.
German faces said it all, although they continued to launch everything at their opponents with a fair chunk of stoppage time still remaining.
Ultimately it backfired however, as Neuer – fancying himself as an attacking midfielder – lost possession in the final third.
He was challenged by substitute Se-Jong Joo who then hammered a long, hopeful ball upfield, and who was there to get on the end of it? Their talisman, Son.
The Tottenham man ran through from his own half to get on the end of it in the nick of time and tap home into the empty net, condemning Germany to their darkest hour.
Fingers will no doubt be pointed and questions asked in the German camp over what went wrong after the many previous successes enjoyed under Löw, but all-in-all it was a historic day for football, and the country of South Korea in particular.
Seventh heaven for Mexico as Sweden soldier on
Both sets of supporters were partying in Ekaterinburg this afternoon as both Mexico and Sweden secured their places in the knockout stages after the latter’s 3-0 win.
The Mexicans were nearly left with egg on their face as they needed just a point to secure a last 16 spot for the seventh successive World Cup, but they were left thanking their lucky stars as South Korea’s famous win spared their blushes.
Sweden on the other hand knew they had to win, and came racing out of the blocks in a bid to take an early lead.
Emil Forsberg caused problems for Guillermo Ochoa with a powerful free-kick and striker Marcus Berg hit an overhead kick just wide from a corner before the big talking point of the half.
As Mexico looked to break from a Swedish corner, Javier Hernandez appeared to brush the ball with his arm in the area, and referee Nestor Pitana was urged to take a second look through VAR after initially waving the appeals away.
He stuck by his original decision, but it didn’t matter too much for Sweden who finally found themselves ahead early in the second half.
Claesson mishit a Berg pass from 12 yards out, but it fortunately spun away to unmarked full-back Ludwig Augustinsson on the left who volleyed past Ochoa to send the Swedish supporters into madness with his first international goal.
And just over ten minutes later they had a golden chance to go two up.
Forsberg played in Berg who ran into the area before being brought down by defender Hector Moreno, and the Argentinian referee made no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Captain Andreas Granqvist stepped up, as he did against South Korea in their opening game, and fired high into the corner to put Sweden on the brink of the last 16.
Mexico’s misery was then compounded with 15 minutes to play, as the Swedes put the result beyond all doubt.
Substitute Isaac Thelin flicked on a throw which was then diverted into the net by Edson Alvarez’ arm whilst under pressure from Ola Toivonen, in a moment that summed up the Mexicans’ afternoon.
Their supporters in the stands then had a long wait praying that Germany wouldn’t find a winner against South Korea, and fortunately for them they were let off the hook, as a loud roar erupted around Ekaterinburg when the news filtered through that the holders had been stunned by two South Korean stoppage time blows.
Paulinho and Thiago Silva send Brazil through as Serbs eliminated
Tite’s Brazil eased to the Last 16 with a convincing victory over Serbia, who crash out of the 2018 World Cup.
The joy in Moscow comes with schadenfreude, as the Germans exited the tournament earlier in the day. Fears of a projected Last 16 meeting with Germany, who thrashed Brazil at their host World Cup, can now safely be placed away as a mere fear, not reality.
Goals from Paulinho and Thiago Silva were enough for Brazil, in a game where the pre-tournament favourites were in control of for the majority of the evening.
Serbia started the brightest, peppering the Brazil area with crosses looking to target the under-sized Brazil defenders.
Marcelo left the field of play unexpectedly complaining of illness, to be replaced by Filipe Luis.
As the first half ticked on, Brazil looked the more likely. Neymar, who is evidently not fully fit yet, took his way to get going but when he did it was a delight to watch. It took him 25 minutes to claw his first moment of brilliance, when he danced around the Serbian defence and combined with Gabriel Jesus in narrow spaces to force a shot.
A few minutes later, the Neymar-Jesus combination nearly created a goal again. The former whipped in a delightful pass inside the full back. Jesus squared up to goal, leaving his man for dead on the cut inside, but ultimately saw his right-footed shot blocked.
The goal was coming, with Brazil’s midfielders and attack starting to combine more and more often with easy on the eye football.
It arrived on 35 minutes, product of a ‘Made in Barcelona’ goal assisted by Coutinho and neatly finished by Paulinho with a deft chip.
The goal was just what Tite’s system is set up for. Paulinho, playing as a central midfielder, is given the license to make darting runs in behind the defenders, as the false nine in Gabriel Jesus makes a decoy run to create the space in behind him.
Coutinho picked a dream of a pass over the top, Paulinho perfectly timed his run and dinked it over the on-running Vladimir Stojkovic.
Neymar had chances to kill the game dead early in the second half, but Stojkovic was on duty to make a couple of smart saves.
For about five minutes, Serbia started to assert themselves and on another day, could have drawn level and blown the group into a state of uncertainty.
Aleksandar Mitrovic missed two very good chances – the second of which being a header which he directed straight at the very grateful Alisson Becker in the Brazilian goal.
Sergej Milikovic-Savic and Nemanja Matic were completely dominating the Brazil midfield at this stage, which was often just populated by Casemiro alone. Tite reacted to this by sending on Manchester City’s unsung hero Fernandinho, who helped gain back control.
Within minutes, Brazil found themselves 2-0 up. Mitrovic tried to hold Miranda as Neymar’s corner flew in, bringing the Brazilian defender to the ground. This created space for Thiago Silva who bulleted his header into the near post from close range.
Brazil eased to victory from here at walking pace and top the group, setting up a tie with Mexico on Monday in Samara.
Switzerland qualify for last 16 despite late penalty drama
A draw in Nizhny Novgorod was a result that both teams go home happy with. It was a point that the Swiss needed to qualify for the next round whereas it was two goals and a point for Costa Rica, after a disappointing World Cup.
Knowing a draw was enough for Switzerland, they started the game in a relaxed manner, playing some attractive football.
Their evening got better just after the half-hour mark, when Breel Embolo knocked down a cross to the advancing Blerim Dzemaili, who arrived unmarked to smash the ball into the net.
Costa Rica answered questions in the 56th minute, finally getting on the 2018 World Cup scoresheet.
It was the hero of qualification who got the goal – Kendall Waston. The Vancouver Whitecaps star leaped the highest from a corner and powered his header home.
Despite being already out of the tournament, Costa Rican players and fans celebrated with euphoria. After the 2014 World Cup successes, 2018 has been rather underwhelming for the Central American side.
With minutes to go, Switzerland looked to have snatched a point from the hands of Costa Rica, when Behrami crossed to Josip Drmic, who finished emphatically.
The Swiss goal to put them ahead did not affect the group standings, with Switzerland needing a couple more goals to dent Brazil’s goal difference.
Despite this, there was one final twist. Joel Campbell, who has been stricken by injuries this season, was brought down inside the box.
Costa Rica’s main man Bryan Ruiz stepped up to take the penalty. His effort struck the crossbar and bounced out of the net. But Swiss keeper Yann Sommer had not reacted in time – the ball crashed into him and rebounded into the goal.
Switzerland will face Sweden on Tuesday in St. Petersburg.
Player of the Day – Philippe Coutinho (Brazil)
Ronaldo? Kane? Lukaku?
When deciding a player of the tournament thus far, goal tallies may carry weight, but the performances of Philippe Coutinho for Brazil have caught the eye three times. A goal in both prior games, an assist and delightful performance today – he is certainly up there.
In fact, he is the first player to have a goal contribution in every group game for Brazil since a certain teenager in 1958 – Pele. If you needed reminding, Brazil went on to lift the Jules Rimet trophy.
Brazil at times have looked to lack a spark from midfield, but Coutinho is the man to provide that.
His assist tonight was sublime, timing the pass to perfection and weighting it even better, dropping it right on the mark for Paulinho to poke it past Stojkovic.
With 91% passing accuracy, 50 passes completed and 3 key passes, the Barcelona midfielder showed that with six months under his belt training at the Catalan club, he is showing the creative abilities of great Barcelona midfielders.
His link up play with the likes of Neymar and Jesus was sublime, and he was unlucky not to score a goal with a couple of long shots.
Going forward, Coutinho could be a vital cog for Brazil, but perhaps Tite will consider bringing in one of Fernandinho or Fred to give Casemiro a helping hand in the defensive phase, giving Coutinho full freedom.