The FIFA World Cup has not been kind to its defending champions in recent years. Of the last four holders prior to this edition, three failed to make it out of the group stage, while the fourth – Brazil in 2006 – exited at the quarter-finals.
For a time last night, it seemed Germany would continue that miserable run, as they headed towards a second successive defeat that would have confirmed Sweden and Mexico’s places in the last 16. But the Germans are, of course, a football nation made of stern stuff, and despite falling behind and going down to ten men in the closing stages, Joachim Loew’s side battled back to claim a memorable win.
That remarkable victory was capped five minutes into injury time, when Toni Kroos – the man whose mistake had led to Ola Toivonen’s opener – curled home a superb free-kick to spark mayhem in Sochi’s Fisht Stadium.
While Germany will inevitably – and deservedly – dominate the headlines, Saturday’s programme also witnessed stellar displays from two of this tournament’s most impressive and in-form sides. Belgium, in fact, are Russia 2018’s joint-top scorers, with their 5-2 demolition of Tunisia taking them on to eight goals for the tournament.
Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard each grabbed a brace for Roberto Martinez’s star-studded side, with the former boosting his World Cup tally to five and equalling ex-coach Marc Wilmots’ national record in the process. It was the Belgians’ sixth successive group stage win at this tournament and extended to 21 matches their already-unprecedented unbeaten run.
If that performance strengthened claims that Belgium could challenge for the trophy, so too did Mexico’s second successive win of the tournament. The 2-1 scoreline against Korea Republic might suggest a tight encounter but El Tri were accomplished and impressive in a dominant performance.
They also helped establish a new World Cup record, with the first 29 matches at Russia 2018 having now passed without a single goalless draw – beating the record of 26 set in 1954.
Did you know?
This was a day to remember for Javier Hernandez. He became the first Mexican player to score 50 international goals and, with his fourth strike at the World Cup, equalled Luis Hernandez’s national record at this competition. It was also a date to remember for Javier Hernandez who scored also on June 23, 2014. After all, he found the net in a win at the global showpiece exactly four years on from scoring in a 3-1 victory over Croatia at Brazil 2014.
England-Panama – Group G, Nizhny Novgorod
Japan-Senegal – Group H, Ekaterinburg
Poland-Colombia – Group H, Kazan