Toni Kroos is not one for big words or gestures. The first ever German to win the UEFA Champions League four times tends to shy away from the spotlight, much preferring to spend time with his family.
And yet when his free-kick found the back of the net to give the defending champions every chance of progressing out of the group stages of the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018â„¢, his emotions certainly came to the fore. He raced over to the corner flag near to where the German fans were massed in the stadium in Sochi, raised a triumphant fist, opened his arms out wide and gave full voice to his joy and relief on a hot, muggy summerâ€™s evening on the banks of the Black Sea.
The headlines decrying both Kroos and the German team were ready to be published. The reigning champions had again let in a goal on the break to go 1-0 down, this time with a ball from Kroos going astray â€“ Kroos, the man reputed as one of the best passers in the German squad.
Indeed, he is known around the world for his accuracy and reliability with the ball, so for him to produce an error of this calibre seemed to be symptomatic of a German team that was staring down the barrel of elimination. “If you make 400 passes then one or two of them are always going to go astray,” the No8 said to journalists after the final whistle. “You then need guts to come out and play like we did in the second half. But no-one sees that. We were really good but couldnâ€™t score when we were on top. I think we earned that late goal though.”
The statistics certainly prove him right. At the break, his passing accuracy was at 95 per cent, but that one lost ball had turned the match on its head.
Coach Joachim Low had every sympathy for his star player. “I am delighted for Toni Kroos after heâ€™d given the ball away for the goal, which really isnâ€™t like him,” the 58-year-old said. “His free-kick was world-class, and he really deserved it.”
Low was merely saying what everyone had seen. Right from the beginning of the match, Kroos had done the hard yards forÂ Die Mannschaft, putting the opposition under pressure and picking up plenty of stray balls. Once the team went behind, he did everything in his power to bring about an equaliser, taking the ball into the Swedish half and having a number of attempts on goal, most of which ended up being blocked. He was a man in search of redemption, and the fact that it came deep into injury time made it all the more liberating.
“It was probably the last chance of the match. He took it perfectly, curling it right into the corner,” said Marco Reus, who trapped the ball to make space for Kroos with the free-kick, in an interview forÂ FIFA.Â “Then it was just pure ecstasy. I think we earned the win though.”
At the end of the day, the Germans had not only bagged the three points but also got their sense of humour back. “I was yelling at him to cross it so you can only imagine what was just said to me in the changing room,” grinned Mats Hummels, who had to sit out of the match due to an injury to his neck but nevertheless was one of the quickest to sprint onto the pitch to celebrate the winner.Â Die MannschaftÂ are still alive, with a place in the Round of 16 at stake when they meet Korea Republic.