Day of World Cup reckoning for holders Germany
Joachim Loew (Getty)
Moscow - Germany
face their day of reckoning at the Soccer World Cup on Wednesday, with the
holders needing a clear win against South Korea to be sure of reaching
the last 16 after Lionel Messi's Argentina scraped through to the
Elsewhere in Russia, as the first round draws to a close, five-time
winners Brazil need a point from their final Group E game against Serbia
to guarantee progress.
Despite a last-gasp 2-1 win over Sweden in their last match, Joachim
Loew's defending world champions remain in danger of becoming the first
German side to fail to make it past the opening round of a World Cup
But Germany, who lost their opener to Mexico, still have matters in
their own hands - a win by a margin of at least two goals would
guarantee their place in the next phase.
"We have to be clear about what we need to achieve," said Loew.
"We have to score two clear goals over our opponents and that will see us through. We have to be masters of our own destiny."
However, Germany's path to the second round is littered with obstacles as all four Group F teams can still qualify.
Even bottom side South Korea can go through by beating Germany if
Sweden lose to Mexico in Yekaterinburg, providing the Koreans finish
with a better goal difference than their rivals.
South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong says his team have just a "one
percent chance" of beating Germany and even star forward Son Heung-min
has played down their chances of an upset.
Should the Germans qualify as Group F runners-up, they potentially face a tasty last-16 clash against Brazil.
Things are more straight-foward in Group E, where Brazil need just a
point against Serbia in Moscow on Wednesday to be sure of reaching the
Victory will confirm Brazil
as group winners, but coach Tite is warning that under-fire superstar
Neymar cannot be expected to win the World Cup on his own and is not yet
at full fitness.
The world's most expensive player, who battled back from a broken
bone in his foot to be fit for Russia, took plenty of flak despite
scoring in the 2-0 victory over Costa Rica on Friday.
Both Brazil goals came in added time and Neymar wept after netting
their second, but was earlier accused of diving after the video
assistant referee overturned a penalty awarded to him when replays
showed there was minimal contact.
"There is an excessive responsibility on him in terms of success and that is not the way to go," said Tite.
"Maybe we need one more match and he will be in his full form
physically and technically, because he is outside the normal standards."
Should Neymar and Brazil stumble in Moscow, Switzerland are hoping a
win over Costa Rica in Nizhny Novgorod could catapult them into the last
16 as Group E winners.
The Swiss are second in the table and level on four points with Brazil, but have an inferior goal difference.
"I think we should get this done, we want to top the group," said Swiss head coach Vladimir Petkovic.
The Swiss camp is promising no more controversy after FIFA fined
three players for their "double eagle" hand gestures to represent the
Albanian flag in the politically charged victory over Serbia.
Argentina, the losing finalists in 2014, were heading for a humiliating
exit in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday before Marcos Rojo scored a stunning
late winner to send Nigeria home.
Argentina will now play France, who were held to a goalless draw by Denmark on Tuesday, in the next round in Kazan on Saturday.
Messi scored his first goal at Russia 2018 in the first half, but
Victor Moses equalised shortly after half-time to put Argentina on the
brink of bowing out.
Diego Maradona, who was visibly emotional during the match, said he
was fine after a health scare following Argentina's dramatic late win.
A video emerged showing the 1986 World Cup winner looking dazed and
being helped to a seat in the VIP area of the stadium and medical staff
later checked him over.
"I want to tell everyone that I am fine, that I am not and was not
hospitalised," the 57-year-old wrote on Instagram on Wednesday.
Croatia were confirmed Group D winners on Tuesday after their 2-1 win
over Iceland and will play Denmark in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday.