Seb Larsson

One night in Berlin

by Stuart Vose

Swede Larsson reflects on four-goal comeback.

At four-nil down with an hour played in Germany last week, there seemed to be little hope for Sweden.

Joachim Low’s powerhouse side were cruising having taken their tally to 10 goals in just two games following a 6-1 demolition of the Republic of Ireland.

Sunderland’s Seb Larsson was a member of the Sweden side who looked set for a heavy defeat in Berlin, with the Germans eyeing a comfortable six–point lead at the top of their World Cup qualifying group.

But then followed a chain of events almost unparalleled in the recent history of international football.

Sweden scored four times, claiming an unlikely point in front of 70,000 stunned souls in a packed Olympiastadion.

It was the first time in history that Germany had let a four-goal lead slip.

Larsson himself admitted afterwards that the final half-hour was perhaps the strangest of his career, while Germany coach Low was left stunned when he faced reporters after the game.

"Honestly…I can find no explanation as to how we let a 4-0 lead slip out of our hands,” he explained. “It's deathly quiet in the changing room. Players are laid out on the benches and are totally speechless."

Larsson concurred. “It was a mad one – hard to explain,” he said, back in the familiar training kit of Sunderland ahead of this weekend’s game against Stoke.

“It was a game I will remember for a very long time. I hadn’t experienced anything like it before and I can’t remember anything like it either.

“For an hour Germany were the best team I had ever played against. They played some brilliant football and we really struggled to cope.

“It looked like it would be a horrible evening.”

Larsson’s assessment of Germany’s opening offerings was right on the money.

Wily frontman Miroslav Klose had scored twice inside the first 15 minutes. The veteran now needs just one more goal to match Gerd Muller’s all-time record of 68.

Per Mertesacker and Mezut Ozil then struck in succession to make it 4-0 with 35 minutes still to play.

Even the Swedish players expected Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 62nd-minute strike to be a mere consolation.

But Mikael Lustig’s smart finish two minutes later planted a seed of doubt in the minds of the home side and one of belief in the visitors’ camp.

Kim Kallstrom’s incisive pass was measured perfectly for Lustig to hold off Holger Badstuber and steer the ball under Manuel Neuer.

“I don’t know how much belief we had [at that point], but the two quick goals at least gave us a thought that we could turn it around,” Larsson said.

“I think it scared Germany – they got tentative. From then on we had nothing to lose and we went for it. When the third goal went in we really believed.”

That goal arrived 14 minutes from time courtesy of former Bolton striker Johan Elmander, who caught Badstuber out of position to score at the near post.

Germany were on the ropes but almost drained Sweden’s momentum when a swift counter-attack found Toni Kroos, whose shot beat Andreas Isaksson only to crash against the upright.

Then the home support held their collective breath when Neuer fumbled a cross into the path of Swedish sub Tobias Sana, who somehow missed an open goal.

It seemed as if Sweden’s chance had gone – but their riposte was a suitably dramatic way to round off a crazy evening.

Three minutes into injury time, Ibrahimovic tussled with Mertesacker and the ball ran loose to the highly-rated Rasmus Elm, who kept his cool to guide the ball into the net from 14 yards and stun the Germans.

Both teams retreated to the dressing rooms in a daze.

“It was crazy,” Larsson said. “We got back to the dressing room and said ‘did that just really happen?’.

“We were away to Germany, who are so strong, but we did it. We got the point.”

His coach, Erik Hamren, was equally taken aback, describing the result as “historic”.

 "I have never seen a thing like this in an international," he added. "Did we believe we could get a result at 3-0 down at half-time? No, no, there was no one who thought that."

"Maybe we thought the game was already over," added Germany captain Philipp Lahm. "You concede the first goal, then the second and then everything falls apart."

The result means Germany’s lead at the top of Group C is just three points, with Sweden boasting a game in hand.

And Larsson says they can look forward to the rest of the qualifying campaign with confidence following the stunning comeback in the German capital.

“It’s a tough group but I think we’ve got off to a good start with two wins and a draw,” he said.

“We didn’t play brilliantly in the first two games but we won them, and the point in Germany was massive.

“We’re in a good place at the moment; now we just need to keep it going.”