KEIR RADNEDGE in RIO DE JANEIRO: Qtr-fnl: France 0, Germany 1
—- Germany overcame their neighbours yet again in a World Cup knockout derby. On the 60th anniversary of their great 1954 World Cup triumph, an early Mats Hummels goal was sufficient against a French side who sunk disappointingly beneath the occasion.
Germany – then ‘only’ West – defeated France in the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1982 and 1986. On both occasions the Germans were favourites and each time they won. This time, in the 2014 quarter-finals, France stepped up as favourites but never lived up to their billing.
Victory achieved courtesy of an early header from Mats Hummel plus resolutely well-organised defending vindicated German manager Joachim Low’s tactical switch in omitting Per Mertesacker from defence, pushing Philipp Lahm to his ‘old’ slot of rightback and bringing veteran Miroslav Klose into attack.
The idea, he explained later, was to provide more pace in the centre of defence and also to attack France down the wings rather than through the centre of the pitch.
The last time Low shifted away from his pre-planned systems was the semi-finals of the last European Championship in Poland and Ukraine. Then, against Italy, Low was jolted into an unnecessary gamble by the creative threat of Andrea Pirlo and the Germans were well beaten. But this time he was spot-on.
After only 12 minutes Low might even have permitted himself an inward smile of satisfaction when Toni Kroos arrowed in a left-wing free free and Hummels held off opposite centre-back number Rafael Varane to head in under the bar.
Up until that point the threats had come at the other end with Antoine Griezmann slipping twice to the left-wing byline and Karim Benzema snatching at one close-range opportunity only to jab the ball wide.
Germany, on the counter, could have had a penalty in the 26th minute but Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana was unsighted as Mathieu Debuchy pulled back Klose’s shirt.
Holding the advantage offered Germany the luxury of relaxing into some possession football which set the France into chasing the game and ball in the heat. Once they finally won it back so they raised their attacking tempo and Mathieu Valbuena saw an angled left-wing shot brilliantly pushed away one-handed by Manuel Neuer.
Encouraged, France grew more determined, perhaps by circumstance. A left-wing cross from Patrice Evra offered Benzema a heading chance but he placed the ball into Hummels’s stomach. Then the Real Madrid centre-forward, working some space for himself out on the left for the first time, cut inside a forced a solid save from keeper Manuel Neuer.
Germany had deserved their half-time lead. They were not playing particularly well but theywere undertaking their game plan more efficiently and the longer time drew on the more of a danger they would prove on the counter-attack.
France had no option but to ramp up an attacking game. Blaise Matuidi pushed further forward on the left and Griezmann searched out the ball more intently to run at the German defence. On one occasion he was hauled down by the shirt by Sami Khedira who was booked.
As time ran on so French anchor man Yohan Cabaye gave way to a support striker in Loic Remy to help Benzema find a little more space. When he did, however, but Hummels blocked his shot and then, with France strung out, so Germany’s counter attacks grew more dangerous.
They should have capitalised in the 82nd minute but Ozil’s left-wing was missed by Muller and substitute Andre Schurrle, backing up, saw his low drive cannon to safety off keeper Hugo Lloris’s legs. Then Schurrle had another effort blocked by Laurent Koscielny.
France managed to manufacture one last opening but Benzema saw an apparently goal-bound angled drive palmed away again by the omnipotent Neuer. In putting one hand to the ball the Bayern Munich goalkeeper also placed both German hands decisively on a place in the semi-final.
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