Kazan (Russia) (AFP) – Germany face their day of reckoning at the World Cup on Wednesday, with the holders needing a clear win against South Korea to be sure of reaching the last 16 after Lionel Messi’s Argentina scraped through to the knockout rounds.
Elsewhere in Russia, as the first round draws to a close, five-time winners Brazil need a point from their final Group E game against Serbia to guarantee progress.
Despite a last-gasp 2-1 win over Sweden in their last match, Joachim Loew’s defending world champions remain in danger of becoming the first German side to fail to make it past the opening round of a World Cup since 1938.
But Germany, who lost their opener to Mexico, still have matters in their own hands — a win by a margin of at least two goals would guarantee their place in the next phase.
“We have to be clear about what we need to achieve,” said Loew.
“We have to score two clear goals over our opponents and that will see us through. We have to be masters of our own destiny.”
However, Germany’s path to the second round is littered with obstacles as all four Group F teams can still qualify.
Even bottom side South Korea can go through by beating Germany if Sweden lose to Mexico in Yekaterinburg, providing the Koreans finish with a better goal difference than their rivals.
South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong says his team have just a “one percent chance” of beating Germany and even star forward Son Heung-min has played down their chances of an upset.
Should the Germans qualify as Group F runners-up, they potentially face a tasty last-16 clash against Brazil.
Things are more straightfoward in Group E, where Brazil need just a point against Serbia in Moscow on Wednesday to be sure of reaching the last 16.
– Neymar pressure –
Victory will confirm Brazil as group winners, but coach Tite is warning that under-fire superstar Neymar cannot be expected to win the World Cup on his own and is not yet at full fitness.
The world’s most expensive player, who battled back from a broken bone in his foot to be fit for Russia, took plenty of flak despite scoring in the 2-0 victory over Costa Rica on Friday.
Both Brazil goals came in added time and Neymar wept after netting their second, but was earlier accused of diving after the video assistant referee overturned a penalty awarded to him when replays showed there was minimal contact.
“There is an excessive responsibility on him in terms of success and that is not the way to go,” said Tite.
“Maybe we need one more match and he will be in his full form physically and technically, because he is outside the normal standards.”
Should Neymar and Brazil stumble in Moscow, Switzerland are hoping a win over Costa Rica in Nizhny Novgorod could catapult them into the last 16 as Group E winners.
The Swiss are second in the table and level on four points with Brazil, but have an inferior goal difference.
“I think we should get this done, we want to top the group,” said Swiss head coach Vladimir Petkovic.
The Swiss camp is promising no more controversy after FIFA fined three players for their “double eagle” hand gestures to represent the Albanian flag in the politically charged victory over Serbia.
– Maradona health scare –
Lionel Messi’s Argentina, the losing finalists in 2014, were heading for a humiliating exit in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday before Marcos Rojo scored a stunning late winner to send Nigeria home.
Argentina will now play France, who were held to a goalless draw by Denmark on Tuesday, in the next round in Kazan on Saturday.
Messi scored his first goal at Russia 2018 in the first half, but Victor Moses equalised shortly after half-time to put Argentina on the brink of bowing out.
Diego Maradona, who was visibly emotional during the match, said he was fine after a health scare following Argentina’s dramatic late win.
A video emerged showing the 1986 World Cup winner looking dazed and being helped to a seat in the VIP area of the stadium and medical staff later checked him over.
“I want to tell everyone that I am fine, that I am not and was not hospitalised,” the 57-year-old wrote on Instagram on Wednesday.
Croatia were confirmed Group D winners on Tuesday after their 2-1 win over Iceland and will play Denmark in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday.