Key players for Germany in group stage decider against South Korea

23 June 2018, Russia, Sochi, Soccer, World Cup, Germany vs Sweden, Group F, Matchday 2 of 3 at the Sochi Stadium: The German team poses for a group picture at the beginning of the match. Photo: Christian Charisius/dpa (Photo by Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images)
23 June 2018, Russia, Sochi, Soccer, World Cup, Germany vs Sweden, Group F, Matchday 2 of 3 at the Sochi Stadium: The German team poses for a group picture at the beginning of the match. Photo: Christian Charisius/dpa (Photo by Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images) /

Germany remain alive in their World Cup campaign thanks to an emphatic late-game winner by Toni Kroos against Sweden. With the round of 16 now looming, here are the players who must step up against South Korea.

Never count out the Germans. Unfortunately, their World Cup campaign opened to some considerable scares. Things didn’t get much easier against Sweden either. Germany needed a dramatic 95th minute set-piece finish by Toni Kroos to grant them a lifeline in the tournament.

But with Mexico and Sweden now both behind them, the Germans face South Korea. Given how difficult Germany have made it look, however, no team can be underestimated. Group F is now up in the air; anyone could be eliminated or advance to the round of 16.

The first thing the Germans need to worry themselves over is advancing, period. However, should they want to avoid making their path to World Cup glory considerably harder, they’ll want to do everything they can to dodge a likely Brazil side in the round of 16. Lets touch over some of the most crucial players for Germany that will need to step up in this final group stage match.

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Toni Kroos needs to be at his creative best

Toni Kroos had a sloppy game-and-a-half so far for Germany in this World Cup campaign. The results shown have been a mixed bag, with very high highs and low lows. He was far from his best against Mexico, with partial blame due to having a sub-par performing partner. Kroos was totally smothered in midfield during the Mexico match.

Meanwhile, Kroos was sloppy in the first half against Sweden. The Real Madrid star was not as precise as you’d expect, and gave way to the lethal counter on Sweden’s only goal. But to be fair, he stepped up in the second half, delivering some important and dangerous looking passes, before scoring the sublime game winner in the 95th minute.

Kroos will be vital to German play throughout against South Korea. With this group being a wild toss-up, there is no downplaying the importance of this match. In order for him to be successful, he needs to be allowed the freedom to create going forward up the pitch. Part of this also depends on who his defensive-midfield partner is (more on that later).

At Real Madrid, he thrives on having Casemiro as the enforcer next to/behind him to allow such freedoms. This takes the pressure of Kroos, preventing him from being smothered by the opposition. However, what is totally in his control is his own passing rate. He will need to be more precise in the build up and avoid giving away needless counter-attacks.

Leon Goretzka must complement Kroos in midfield

Part of Toni Kroos’ performance depends on who his partner lying deep in holding/defensive midfield is. This more defensive partner in the middle of the pitch will help to take pressure and opposition attention off Kroos, who will be given more freedom to distribute to attacking play. Sebastian Rudy would have been a great option for this role, but his broken nose keeps him from playing tomorrow. Instead, future Bayern Munich midfielder Leon Goretzka could fill this role.

A lack of midfield steel is part of what went wrong in group stage match day one. Sami Khedira looked like a shadow of his former self. He was sluggish and lethargic, unable to track back when necessary in defense to help thwart counter-attacks and take pressure of Kroos in midfield. Essentially, Goretzka will do what Khedira clearly could not.

As already stated, Goretzka’s presence as a more holding/defensive midfielder will ward off pressure from Toni Kroos, allowing him to spray — hopefully — precise and accurate passes to his teammates in attack. In addition, Goretzka will provide shielding cover for the back line, which will ideally prevent counter-attacks.

Goretzka can also fill in for Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector in either of the full-back positions when either of them is bombing forward to provide width. This will help give time for either Hector or Kimmich to track back and prevent incoming threats on goal from the flanks. In doing so, the center-back pairing won’t be forced to play out of position.

The future Bayern Munich man is generally fit as more of a box-to-box midfielder, true. However, with his tenacious style of play in defense and tireless engine, he could potentially be asked to fit into this more disciplined role.

Marco Reus and Julian Brandt on the wings

Another crucial point is how dynamic Germany attack on the flanks. Germany must use their most creative weapons on the wings in order to attack effectively. Both flanks will need to be efficiently equipped as neither end can become over-reliant. The Germans have to be able to switch up play and be creative on both sides of the pitch.

It is for this reason that Thomas Muller cannot be playing on either flank. The Bayern Munich vice-captain lacks the dribbling technique and necessary pace to be effective on the wing. Marco Reus, as with Sweden, must start on the left. The Borussia Dortmund winger can easily be a constant threat streaking down the wing. He came up big scoring the equalizer against the Swedes, and he can get the job done against South Korea.

On the other end is someone who hasn’t been shown the love he deserves yet. Julian Brandt, since coming on as a sub in both group stage games, looked electric. The young German was dynamic and a real threat in both cameos against Mexico and Sweden. He fired off two rockets that were unlucky to ping off the posts. With his pace and one-on-one dribbling, he has the skill to start for Germany against South Korea.

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Joachim Low’s men haven’t yet impressed at this summer’s tournament. They really need to step up their game if they are to have a chance of winning this World Cup. Utilizing their best players in the right positions will go a long way in helping them do that.