MOSCOW (AP) — The unpredictable World Cup could take yet another twist when Germany faces Sweden and attempts to avoid an embarrassing outcome that could prematurely end its title defense.
Mexico plays South Korea in Saturday’s middle game, and if Mexico earns at least one point and Germany loses to Sweden in the evening, the World Cup will have a new champion. A loss to the Scandinavians would send the World Cup champions out at the group stage for the first time since France in 2002.
Germany found itself in this position with a 1-0 loss to Mexico in its opener, which was fairly one-sided and drew heavy criticism at home for coach Joachim Loew’s squad. The debate has focused on the German lineup and the role of Marco Reus. He didn’t enter until the 60th minute in the loss to Mexico, but he immediately improved Germany’s attack.
His health was of question before the World Cup because a knee injury that caused him to miss more than half of last season with Borussia Dortmund, but Reus said he’s able to start and play a full match.
“I really have no say in this. All I can do is make is as hard as possible for them to do without me,” Reus said.
Sweden heads into the Group F match coming off a win in its opening game for the first time since it hosted the tournament in 1958.
The Swedes have been on a roll with upsets of France during qualifying and a win that eliminated Italy in the playoffs. But Germany is unbeaten in its last 11 games against Sweden, and Sweden’s last win against the nation was a 3-1 victory in 1978.
If Sweden manages to beat Germany, it would be the first elimination in group play for Germany since 1980.
The game at Fisht Stadium is at 9 p.m. (2 p.m. EDT, 1800 GMT).
A look at Saturday’s other matches:
BELGIUM VS. TUNISIA
3 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT; 1200 GMT)
Belgium beat Panama 3-0 in its opening game yet still found itself under intense scrutiny for a flat first-half performance. The Belgian squad was so superior that Panama admitted after the match the squad was thankful it didn’t lose by more.
So expectations are high for Belgium to sail past Tunisia in Group G play Saturday at Spartak Stadium. A victory would move the Belgians to the edge of advancing to the knockout round.
Romelu Lukaku scored twice in the opening round and all three of Belgium’s goals came from open play. But it took a full half for him to find his rhythm, and the Tunisia squad will be a stronger opponent than Panama.
Tunisia is in the World Cup for the first time since 2006 and had an admirable showing in its opener against England. That game went down to the wire before England eked out a 2-1 victory.
Now Tunisia surely needs a win to avoid eventual elimination. A victory would end a World Cup drought that dates to 1978, when Tunisia became the first African team to win on soccer’s biggest stage.
Belgium is unbeaten in three previous World Cup games against African opponents, and a draw against Tunisia in 2002 was the only game it failed to win.
SOUTH KOREA VS. MEXICO
6 p.m. (11 a.m. EDT, 1500 GMT)
South Korea is in a slump as it faces a Mexico squad soaring after its upset over Germany, so the confidence for these two teams are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
South Korea has lost four of its last six matches, which includes friendlies.
Mexico, winners of three of its last six, had perhaps the biggest victory in national team history with a 1-0 stunner over Germany. It has the national squad considering how far it can go in this tournament.
“I don’t know if we’ve sent a message to other teams, but internally we’ve spread a clear message that that we can, and are completely capable of competing with anyone,” Mexico defender Miguel Layun said. “It helps us to know we’re capable and that when we work together, we can accomplish anything.”
Its fans have flocked to Russia and the Mexican soccer federation was fined and threatened with further sanctions over a chant by supporters against Germany that is considered to be homophobic. Fans in Mexico use the chant to insult opposing goalkeepers as they take a goal kick.
The federation has asked fans to behave at the Group F match.
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