BERLIN - Stunned silence gripped the Germany dressing room, a sense of disbelief coursing through a team that had scored 10 goals in a little over one and a half games but now found their will to win under examination.
Looking on, their manager, Joachim Löw, was in a “state of shock,” unable to comprehend how his players had managed to throw away a 4-0 lead on home soil to a Sweden side that days earlier had scrambled to victory over Faroe Islands. Germany had drawn but it felt like a defeat.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” said Löw after Tuesday night’s 4-4 thriller in Berlin. “The problem seems to have been mental after 60 minutes. We became sloppy and lost our discipline.”
That sentiment was shared by Germany’s captain, Philipp Lahm. “It’s very bitter,” he said. “Maybe we thought the game was already over. You concede the first goal, then the second and then everything falls apart.”
Bastian Schweinsteiger, too, admitted that the Nationalmannschaft had perhaps become complacent having engineered what appeared to be an unassailable lead. “I can’t explain it,” the midfielder said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”
Indeed, no Germany player of any era has, for the collapse to Sweden was the first time the national team has squandered a four-goal lead and, as such, the sense of shock that followed was understandable, even more so given Germany came into the match on the back of having thrashed Republic of Ireland 6-1 in Dublin last Friday.
Löw’s men had been irresistible that night, tearing through Ireland at near-will to record their 13th consecutive win in qualifying tournaments, and against Sweden appeared to have simply picked up from where they left off, racing to a 4-0 lead within 55 minutes thanks to two goals from Miroslav Klose he is now one behind Gerd Müller’s all-time record of 68 goals for Germany and one apiece from Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil.
At that stage the majority of the 70,000 people inside Berlin’s Olympic Stadium were in raptures; Germany were heading for their fourth straight win in Group C of this 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign with a swagger and verve that suggested they would secure their passage to Brazil in style.
Then, however, came the fightback. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who got Sweden’s winner in their 2-1 victory over Faroe Islands five days ago, scored with a header on 62 minutes before Mikael Lustig halved the deficit soon after with a close-range finish.
Johan Elmander made the impossible appear probable on 76 minutes with a near-post finish before Rasmus Elm snatched the equaliser in stoppage time after Mertesacker had headed the ball into the path of the CSKA Moscow player.
“60 minutes heaven, 30 minutes hell,” is how the headline in Der Spiegel described the match, with the subsequent article going on to say that “debates about the shortcomings of the DFB” would break out again.
Those debates had begun following Germany’s loss to Italy in the semi-finals of Euro 2012, with the team accused of freezing on the big stage.
There then followed questions about the morale of the squad, with some coming from inside the camp itself, most notably from Schweinsteiger, which resulted in Löw having a “very fruitful discussion” with the 28-year-old ahead of the Ireland match.
The subsequent thrashing of Giovanni Trapattoni’s side suggested all was well with Germany again, only for Tuesday night’s meltdown, as Der Spiegel states, to reopen the debate into the squad’s collective state of mind.
So much so, in fact, that the German tabloid Bild is asking if the national team has a “psychological crack” seen not only by what happened against Italy at the Euros and against Sweden this week, but also by how Bayern Munich, who provide the national team with a sizeable number of players, finished runners-up for the Bundesliga title, the German cup and the Champions League last season.
“Can sports psychologist Dr Hans-Dieter Hermann help now?” asked Bild. “He works for the DFB and will be able to engage with the international players.”
There is naturally no such introspection in Sweden following a result that keeps the national team in second place in Group C, with a game in hand over Germany and morale boosted ahead of the meeting with third-place Ireland next March.
“Achievement of Berlin” and “historical” is how the Sweden manager, Erik Hamrén, described his team’s dramatic comeback, with columnist Johan Esk speaking of his country’s “biggest bang in football history” in the Swedish daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter.
Germany were certainly shot down to earth on an incredible night in Berlin. A case of shock and awe for a normally awesome team.