RIO DE JANEIRO — As reliable as pickpockets on Copacabana and microscopic swimsuits in Ipanema, Germany in the Maracanã wasn’t exactly a startling affair. In a tournament that anoints new stars and celebrates a shifting of powers every four years, Germany is the steadfast constant.
“Really, it was one of the favorites of this World Cup. It’s now in the semifinals,” said France Coach Didier Deschamps, not long after Germany had patiently picked his team apart for 90-plus minutes Friday, needing just one goal to send a plucky French team home.
“No surprise,” he added.
With a steady blend of strategy, precision and execution, Germany hopes its workmanlike performance Friday was just a preview. With a 1-0 win over France, the Germans are one win from a return visit to the historic Maracanã stadium, site of the World Cup title match July 13.
They advance to the tournament semifinals, where they will face Brazil, a 2-1 victor over Colombia in Friday’s other quarterfinal match, on Tuesday in Belo Horizonte. It marks Germany’s fourth straight appearance in the semifinal round. It lost to the eventual champion in both 2006 (Italy) and 2010 (Spain) and has settled for third-place finishes at the past two World Cups. Germany last hoisted the trophy in 1990.
“I think we’ll try to do the next step,” Germany Coach Joachim Löw said.
On Friday, Germany again looked like a team capable of contending for the title. It scored early and then frustrated French fans for the final 80 or so minutes.
But the strategizing began long before the match. Löw noticed that France is packed in the middle, so he shifted captain Philipp Lahm from midfield to right back, allowing the star player to operate more in the margins, where he’s most effective.
The result was a team that controlled the midfield, kept France off-balance and sent a message to Brazil that the host nation will have to prepare for everything in Tuesday’s semifinal matchup.
The truth is, Germany won Friday's game in rather ho-hum fashion — “It was certainly not the perfect match,” defender Mats Hummels said — and players know more will be required to return to Rio for the championship.
The Germans missed several scoring chances but in the end only really needed one.
In the 13th minute, Toni Kroos, Germany’s talented 24-year-old midfielder, booted a perfect cross off a free kick toward the penalty box. The ball floated in the air just long enough for Hummels to charge through the pack of blue and white jerseys.
Hummels leaped and connected with a pinpoint header, redirecting the ball past French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and into the upper right corner of the goal.
It was Hummels’s second goal of the tournament and only the third Lloris gave up through five games.
Germany has cruised through this tournament so far. It won Group G and topped Algeria, 2-1, in the second round, albeit after extra time. It has outscored opponents 10-3.
Though Germany controlled possession for most of the match Friday, France held a 9-6 advantage in shots on goal.
“It’s a really great feeling for the defenders,” Löw said.
The coach called his goalkeeper one of the best of the world and said Neuer somehow remains “so cool and calm.”
It was a good afternoon to stay cool. Playing under a hot afternoon sun, both of the European teams were struggling by the end of the match.
“You could hardly breathe,” Löw said.
A heavy contingent of Brazilians were among the announced crowd of 74,240 at the Maracanã, and they didn’t seem to mind. They were eagerly chanting and warning the Germans that Brazil would be ready for them in the next round. The host team will be without Neymar, however, after the star left Friday’s victory with a broken vertebra.
Germany and Brazil have faced each other only once in the World Cup — the 2002 final, which ended with a memorable 2-0 win for the Brazilians.
France heads home earlier than it had hoped but later than many expected.
The tournament’s 2006 runner-up failed to even get out of the group stage in 2010.
Plagued by infighting and controversy, Les Bleus have had two coaches since then, but Deschamps finally seems to have them back on the right track despite a lack of urgency and fire in Friday’s match.
“Let’s not forget what we’ve done so far, which was good or very good,” Deschamps said. “We wanted to go further, we wanted to qualify for the semis. But I don’t think there was a huge gap between both teams. I’m proud.”
The Group E winners had the talent and chemistry to reach the semifinal round here — but they also had the misfortune to draw a German squad in the quarters that seems to be picking up momentum with each round.
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