This was an old European tale relocated to the furnace-like conditions of the Maracana stadium. Neither side looked at home and the expected drama failed to materialise in the uncomfortable heat. There was, however, no surprise at the identity of the victors.
Referee: N Pitana (Arg)
Germany are on course for a fourth World Cup title with a win that marked the 60th anniversary of their first triumph, when they came from two goals down against Hungary in Berne. Here, they needed no miracle. They did not even need a goal by Miroslav Klose, the striker whose inclusion yesterday meant many anticipated being treated to the sight of genuine world cup history being made.
Despite being handed a surprise start, Klose was not able to score the goal that would have put him out on his own as the highest World Cup scorer of all time, a boast he currently shares with the Brazilian striker Ronaldo. In the end, Klose distinguished himself only by attempting in vain to win a penalty in the first half. Instead, Germany were dependent on Mats Hummels, a centre-half, for securing a last-four appointment in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.
His header after only 13 minutes was the difference between two teams who failed to conjure up the thrills it was hoped they would. Although France did shake themselves out of their torpor following a curiously lethargic start, they could not find a way past Manuel Neuer.
As well as Hummels, Germany were reliant on a goalkeeper who made at least two game-changing saves, the last one in the final minute as France made a belated attempt to alter the course of history. Germany are the first country in World Cup history to reach four successive semi-finals, a run stretching back to Japan and Korea in 2002.
Trust a goalkeeper to be the centre of attention when the meeting itself had been framed by Harald Schumacher’s assault on Patrick Battiston 32 years ago, during an epic World Cup semi-final. The German goalkeeper earned lifetime notoriety for himself when rushing from his goal-line and barging into a player who was left unconscious.
Neuer, too, falls in the tradition of goalkeepers who enjoy breaking free from the confines of his own box and against Algeria last Monday was often seen dashing out to cover for his defenders
Much was made of this sweeping technique before this game but he had fewer opportunities to exhibit such skills early on, because France did not play with anything like the same adventure shown by Algeria in Porto Alegre.
When Neuer was required to show his mettle, it was in more orthodox fashion. He saved brilliantly from Mathieu Valbuena to ensure his side stayed ahead at the break and then blocked a powerfully hit shot by Karim Benzema towards the end.
It was not the classic many were expecting. The heat, which was at its most intense due to the early-afternoon kick-off, was largely responsible for this. France wore heavy-looking dark blue shirts that seemed ill-equipped for the sweltering conditions in contrast to the white of the breezier-looking Germans. However, neither side excelled. There was a sense that Germany progressed because that is what they do.
Even though the French are the more recent world champions, Germany were heavy favourites and their performance was imbued with far more belief than that of their opponents. German skipper Philipp Lahm was re-deployed at full-back, an attempt by manager Joachim Löw to stretch the match and reduce the influence of Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi, France’s powerful midfielders.
In contrast to many of the games we have enjoyed so far in Brazil, this was a dogged tussle that struggled to escape the weight of history. It was far from the classic served up in Seville, on the night of the Schumacher outrage and when the teams shared six goals before West Germany emerged triumphant on penalties. Yesterday’s match had more in common with the slightly less fevered clash when the same teams met at the same stage in Mexico four years later. West Germany won then too.
Nevertheless, a meeting between two powerhouses of European football, with four World Cup titles between them, did not deserve to feel like the second attraction on the bill. However, Brazilians formed the majority of the crowd and many spent their time warming up for the last night’s clash between the hosts and Colombia, singing the national anthem and generally giving the thumbs down to what was going on in front of them. Sadly, it was possible to understand why.
Of course, the fact that the Maracana sat baking in the sun did nothing to help increase the intensity down on the pitch, where the players were clearly suffering. The grass also seemed sticky, about which France manager Didier Deschamps voiced concerns before the match. Exhaustion rather than excellence seemed to be the decisive influence on the outcome.
Despite the outbreak of flu that was said to have affected up to a third of their squad, Germany imposed themselves more forcefully on the proceedings than France, who seemed to be affected by a sense that reaching the quarter-final was as much as they might have expected.
This is not the mindset of Germany, who are here, they have stressed again and again, to win the trophy. Hummels stretched every sinew when holding off the challenge of Raphaël Varane to meet a free kick that Toni Kroos sent into the box, and was rewarded when he saw his header beat Hugo Lloris and reach the back of the net via the underside of the bar.
Germany thereafter defended their lead with a fierce determination.
However, they rued not having made things more comfortable for themselves when Thomas Müller, whose trip when taking a free kick was a feature of the last 16 win over Algeria, miskicked in front of goal in the second half.
Lloris then saved substitute Andre Schürrle’s attempt to bail out his team-mate. France could at least reflect on having improved beyond the role of mere bystanders.
Whistles had earlier greeted the prolonged spells of possession play by Germany, who sought to limit their exertions by letting the ball do the work; France looked to be chasing shadows at times in this period.
Fearing the loss of a second goal that would surely have killed off the contest, Deschamps’ side began to settle, and sought to give their opponents
something to think about in their
own half for a change. It was during this spell that Neuer was called upon, saving from Valbuena after good work by
Neuer distinguished himself again at the end when Benzema found room on the edge of the box, advanced and then struck a shot that the goalkeeper kept out with a single strong fist.
France: Lloris, Debuchy, Varane,Sakho (Koscielny 71), Evra, Valbuena (Giroud 85), Pogba, Cabaye (Remy 73), Matuidi, Griezmann, Benzema.
Germany: Neuer, Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Howedes, Ozil (Gotze 83), Kroos (Kramer 90), Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Muller, Klose (Schurrle 69)