One-third of the German World Cup team was battling sore throats and flu symptoms heading into Friday’s quarterfinal against European neighbor France, but Mats Hummels, who missed the previous game with a fever, provided the perfect antidote.
The German defender outmuscled French defender Raphael Varane in the 13th minute and headed in a Toni Kroos free kick for the only goal Germany would need to advance to its fourth consecutive World Cup semifinal. The tense 1-0 victory delighted the pro-German crowd of 74,240 at Maracana Stadium on a postcard-perfect sunny day.
It was the 15th headed goal for Germany since the 2002 World Cup, seven more than any other team.
“It wasn’t easy today. It was brutally hot, especially in the sun. But we played as a team again,” German captain Philipp Lahm said. “We were well organized. These were two good teams against each other. We got the first goal and they had to come to us. It’s clear you’re not going to have an easy opponent in the quarterfinal.”
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France had two outstanding chances to score, but German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, one of six Bayern Munich players on the team, denied a close-up shot by Mathieu Valbuena in the 34th minute and made another clutch save on a Karim Benzema shot late in the match.
“We had our chances, but they had more experience than we did,” French coach Didier Deschamps said. “They had us under control and they controlled that one-goal lead well. It’s unfortunate. But our team isn’t used to big meetings like this. The difference wasn’t that big today between us and Germany, but they advanced.”
There was a large contingent of yellow-clad Brazilians in the stands who in the second half chanted that their beloved team would be awaiting the Germans in the semifinal in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday. They got their wish as Brazil held off Colombia 2-1 in the other quarterfinal late Friday afternoon in Fortaleza.
Germany has reached the semifinals in 10 of the past 13 World Cups, but has made only one final since winning the 1990 championship, back when now-U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was a star of the team. The last time Germany was in the final was 2002, and Brazil was the victor, 2-0.
Germany lost its past two semifinals to eventual champions, Italy in 2006 and Spain in 2010, and the team is determined to take it a step further here.
Friday’s quarterfinal was steeped in history. For those old enough to remember, it brought back memories of the 1982 World Cup semifinals, when West Germany rallied from 3-1 down to tie France 3-3 and then won the shootout. That match was controversial because German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher ran out of his area and with a feet-first tackle broke the jaw of French player Patrick Battiston. Schumacher was not penalized, and the French have never forgotten.
The rivals met again in the 1986 semifinals, and Germany won 2-0.
As if that weren’t incentive enough for France on Friday, Les Bleus were eager to make up for a disastrous World Cup performance four years ago in South Africa. The French lost all three group games there, and several off-field meltdowns led to a player mutiny against then-coach Raymond Domenech, which resulted in mass suspensions and the resignation of French federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes.
Deschamps, a former French star player, came in and completely changed the team’s attitude. French players arrived here as a lively, cohesive unit and raised eyebrows with eight goals in their first two group wins against Switzerland and Honduras. France needed two goals in the final 11 minutes to beat Nigeria 2-0 in the Round of 16, but otherwise cruised into the quarterfinals.
The French strung together many nice passing sequences against the Germans, but the German defense, with Lahm back in his familiar right back spot, was difficult to penetrate. The two teams each possessed the ball exactly 50 percent of the match, and France had 13 shots to eight for Germany, but that Hummels header made all the difference in the end.
Germany, meanwhile, had been facing some criticism back home because after the opening 4-0 win over Portugal, the Germans tied Ghana 2-2, beat the United States 1-0 and needed extra time to get past Algeria 2-1.
But German fans, decked in red, black and yellow, seemed more than satisfied after the win against France. They were hoping to celebrate a World Cup record-breaking goal by 36-year-old striker Miroslav Klose, who is tied at 15 goals with Brazil great Ronaldo. But it was not to be. Klose started, but had no shots on goal.
He’ll have to wait until Tuesday in Belo Horizonte to try again.