SAINT PETERSBURG, Russian Federation, Jun 23 – Germany staved off an early World Cup exit by the finest of margins thanks to Toni Kroos’s brilliant stoppage-time goal, but continue to trail an impressive Mexico side in Group F.
Belgium, meanwhile, produced one of the few free-scoring performances of the tournament so far with Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard in fine form for the Red Devils.
Here, AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from the World Cup today.
Never count Germany out
The world champions were staring elimination at the first hurdle at a World Cup for the first time since 1930 when Kroos stood over a free-kick with 94 minutes on the clock in Sochi.
One majestic swipe of the Real Madrid midfielder’s right foot and Germany are suddenly a threat to win the competition again.
But there remains plenty of room for improvement. Joachim Loew’s decision to drop Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil wasn’t a resounding success as Germany struggled to create chances and were opened up on the counter-attack just as they were in defeat by Mexico.
But Kroos’s brilliance has handed the holders a lifeline. Count them out at your peril.
In a World Cup where the favourites have largely failed to shine and struggled for goals, Belgium have so far stood out as a class apart.
Lukaku moved level with Cristiano Ronaldo as the tournament’s top scorer on four goals, but an ankle ligament injury may prevent the Manchester United striker from fighting for the Golden Boot.
After Panama and Tunisia, Roberto Martinez’s men face a steep step up in opposition, starting with England in Kaliningrad on Thursday.
But their place in the last 16 should already be guaranteed by then with Martinez promising to ring the changes and they may even prefer to finish second in Group G.
The group winners look set for the tougher side of the draw that could contain Brazil, Germany and France.
Mexico making a noise
One of the best supported nations in Russia, Mexican fans have flooded across the Atlantic in tens of thousands and their side are making just as big an impression on the pitch.
After the emotional highs of beating Germany in their opening game, there was no hangover in Rostov as Juan Carlos Osorio’s men kept South Korea at arm’s length despite some rough treatment from the Asians and deservedly claimed another three points.
Work still needs to be done with Mexico needing to avoid defeat against Sweden to be sure of making the last 16 for the seventh straight World Cup.
On the last six occasions, that is as far as Mexico have gone. But there can be high hopes of making the quarter-finals this time around, particularly if they top the group to avoid a potential last-16 clash with Brazil.