Four-all in a game of two halves

ROB HUGHES

In sports as in life, arrogant presumption can bite you in the backside. Germany's management and players are at a loss to explain how the national team managed to lose a four-goal lead Tuesday in Berlin and end up tied, 4-4, against Sweden.

Spain's unrivaled collection of players switched off with a minute to go in its home game against France and lost its record of 24 consecutive victories in European and World Cup qualifiers. Again the contest finished level, 1-1, in Madrid.

Portugal went through the palaver of handing Cristiano Ronaldo his 100th national team cap on the field before its match in Oporto, and then had to chase the game for a late equalising goal against Northern Ireland, a country ranked 114 places beneath it.

The sport has been going for more than a century, and some of the elite still cannot figure out how to get the basics done. Germany had never before given up a four-goal lead in the 868 games played by the Mannschaft. There were 72,369 witnesses to the first time it happened, at the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday.

Inside the first 15 minutes, Miroslav Klose, that stealthy accumulator of goals, had slipped through the Swedish defensive lines to score twice. His first goal was a sweet sliding volley with his left foot, his second a short stab of his right.

The giant defender Per Mertesacker and the accomplished creator Mesut Ozil then scored for Germany shortly before and after half time.

"Did we believe at 3-0 down at halftime that we could get a result?" Sweden's coach, Erik Hamren, mused after the game. "No. No, there was no one who thought that." There was, possibly, one man who sensed something was possible. "We were too scared, too respectful of the Germans," said Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden's talismanic forward.

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