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WORLD CUP

Germany face crunch Sweden clash as Belgium eye knockouts

Germany can ill afford another slip-up when they take on Sweden at the World Cup on Saturday, as the defending champions attempt to follow Brazil's lead by belatedly springing into life.

Germany face crunch Sweden clash as Belgium eye knockouts
Germany's Jonas Hector, Joshua Kimmich, Mario Gomez and Ilkay Gundogan at Friday's training session. Photo: Nelson Almeida / AFP
Joachim Loew's side slumped to a 1-0 defeat against Mexico in their opening Group F match, paying the price for a calamitous first half in a performance that drew stinging, widespread criticism.
 
Lothar Matthaeus, the 1990 World Cup-winning captain, said he hadn't seen a Germany team “so weak at a big tournament for a long time” following the loss in Moscow.
 
SEE ALSO: Is a pessimistic political mood affecting the German national team?   
 
The holders will likely be without defensive pillar Mats Hummels due to a neck injury, while Marco Reus could be handed a start after a bright 30-minute cameo off the bench against Mexico.
 
“Everyone is ready to fight for their lives,” said striker Timo Werner, who is again set to lead the Germany attack.
 
With 10 World Cup goals to his name, Germany will also expect more from Thomas Mueller at his third finals appearance.
 
“The pressure is terrifically high, but we won't win both games if we beat ourselves up internally and look for the mistakes in each other,” said Mueller, with Germany to meet South Korea in their final match.
 
Sweden beat the Koreans 1-0 to join Mexico at the top of the section, but a stomach bug has prevented three players — Pontus Jansson, Filip Helander and Marcus Rohden — from travelling to Sochi. They could yet make the trip separately, with Sweden also hoping Victor Lindelof can return after sitting out the opener due to an illness of his own.
 
“This is really what you spend your whole career and life working towards. It is an extraordinary opportunity to be involved in a World Cup match like this,” said Sweden boss Janne Andersson. “Whether we knock out Germany is one thing, but we have a chance to qualify and that is extraordinary.”
 
 The two sides of VAR
 
Brazil, one of several contenders to make a slow start in Russia, left it late before finally overcoming a plucky Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday. Neymar won a penalty before referee Bjorn Kuipers reversed his decision after he consulted the video assistant referee, the first time a spot-kick award has been chalked off at the tournament. Philippe Coutinho broke the deadlock in the 91st minute, with Neymar volleying in a second with virtually the last kick of the game.
 
Brazil must pick up at least a point against Serbia next Wednesday to be assured of progressing, with Switzerland also in a strong position in Group E after Xherdan Shaqiri's 90th-minute winner in a 2-1 victory over Serbia. 
 
Argentina received a lifeline in Group D as Ahmed Musa's brace sealed a 2-0 victory for Nigeria over Iceland, who saw Gylfi Sigurdsson sky a VAR-awarded penalty. Lionel Messi and company looked down and out after capitulating against 
Croatia, but a win over Nigeria on June 26 could send them through as runners-up.
 
Romelu Lukaku and Belgium can effectively lock up a last 16 berth with victory over Tunisia in Moscow in Group G, ahead of a blockbuster clash with England next week. Lukaku scored twice in a 3-0 win over debutants Panama, and Roberto Martinez is trying to finally squeeze the best out of a squad brimming with talent.
 
“The World Cup does not respect generations, the World Cup doesn't respect individual names, it only respects winning teams,” Martinez said.
 
Mexico head into their showdown with South Korea after a “milestone” win over Germany, but a misstep in Rostov-on-Don would undo all that good work. The Taegeuk Warriors are drawing inspiration from Asian rivals Japan and Iran as they bid to avoid a premature end to their Russian adventure. 
 
“I had a suspicion the Asian teams in this World Cup would do well and I had the idea that we would do well as an Asian team too,” midfielder Jung Woo-young said.  “It has caused a lot of excitement for us and we are even stronger in our 
belief that we can do it.” 

FOOTBALL

Sweden into World Cup semis after ending German hoodoo

Stina Blackstenius scored the winner as Sweden came from behind to stun old rivals Germany on Saturday and set up a women's World Cup semi-final against the Netherlands.

Sweden into World Cup semis after ending German hoodoo
Photo: AP Photo/David Vincent/TT

Sweden had not beaten Germany at a major women's tournament since the 1995 World Cup, failing to win any of their subsequent meetings at World Cups, European Championships and Olympics in almost quarter of a century.

That run included defeats in the 2003 World Cup final and the gold medal match at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but they gained revenge in Rennes, coming from behind to win their quarter-final 2-1.

Lina Magull had given Germany a 16th-minute lead with a fine finish from a Sara Däbritz assist, but the excellent Sofia Jakobsson equalised soon after on a hot evening in Brittany.

The winner arrived three minutes after half-time, with Blackstenius prodding home the rebound after Almuth Schult had saved a Fridolina Rolfö header.

Despite bringing on star player Dszenifer Marozsan, who had missed the
previous three games with a broken toe, Germany remained blunt as the clock
ticked down.

Blackstenius had scored Sweden's winner against Canada in the last round and also netted against the Germans in that Olympic final defeat in 2016.

“We have talked about the possibilities here for us to go far and win every game,” said a bullish Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson.

“There's not a single mitochondria in us that's content. We're going to go for it.”

The Germans will now be deprived of the chance to defend their Olympic title, with defeat here meaning they fail to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games. Sweden will join the Netherlands and Great Britain — who have qualified thanks to England's World Cup run — at the Games instead.

“We are now qualified for the Olympics. That is one thing that has been hanging over our heads for a while,” said Gerhardsson.

Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg told ARD: “The defeat hurts, but we are in a process. We will grow from this experience.”

Sweden go on to a semi-final encounter with the Dutch in Lyon on Wednesday, and they will have a score to settle there too, having lost to the Netherlands at Euro 2017.

The 'Oranje' went on to win that tournament and have coped well in France with their status as reigning European champions.

The tournament now switches for the closing stages to Lyon — home to Europe's top women's club side — with holders the United States and England facing off in the first semi-final on Tuesday.

Megan Rapinoe's double strike gave the USA a 2-1 win over France on Friday, ending the hosts' dream of winning the trophy on home soil.

England reached their second successive World Cup semi-final with a straightforward 3-0 win over Norway on Thursday.

READ ALSO: Italy lose out to Dutch in bid to reach World Cup semi-finals

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