Football: Germans claim game, set, Mats

After a gritty win against Colombia, only Joachim Loew’s side stand in the way of the hosts securing their dream final ticket

Mats Hummels celebrates. Photo / AP
Mats Hummels celebrates. Photo / AP

What they lack in beauty, Brazil are making up for with backbone.

The home side are now just one step from a World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium after battling to a 2-1 quarter-final win over Colombia yesterday.

Standing in the way: a German team desperate for the trophy after narrow brushes with success since their last major tournament win in 1996.

It just wouldn't be the World Cup without Germany in the semifinals.

Harnessing all their big-game experience, the Germans delivered a performance of maturity and efficiency to hold off France 1-0 to become the first team to reach four-straight semifinals in the sport's marquee tournament.

Criticised for poor defending in earlier matches, Germany selected a more robust lineup and restricted a flat France team to a handful of clear-cut opportunities.

"There was not much in it," France coach Didier Deschamps said. "[But] we don't have the international experience Germany have."

While France's young players slumped to the ground and some shed tears after the final whistle, the Germans soberly saluted all corners of the Maracana Stadium.

One job done, nothing more.

Wednesday morning's (NZT) semifinal will be Germany's 13th appearance in the final four in 20 editions of the World Cup.

"I guess we're playing the kind of football which will give us a chance to win," said Mats Hummels, who scored the winner with a strong header early in the match and then produced a couple of decisive blocks to snuff out two good chances for France striker Karim Benzema.

"We defended well today. I think we deserve to carry on."

It means that in Joachim Loew's eight-year tenure as coach, Germany have reached the last four in every major tournament they have played — but remain without a title since winning the European Championships in 1996.

Loew has five survivors in his squad from the 2006 World Cup in Germany and 10 of the side who finished third in South Africa in 2010.

"We played like a team again," said Germany captain Philipp Lahm, who returned to right back in one of a string of tactically astute changes made by Loew. "Overall, it was a good performance from us."

They will need to produce another clinical one against Brazil, even though the hosts will be without the injured Neymar (fractured verterbra) and captain Thiago Silva, who will be suspended after he picked up his second yellow card of the tournament for a foolish foul on Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina.

Interestingly, Brazil haven't lost when coach Felipe Scolari has started Silva and David Luiz at centre back.

The absence of Neymar and Silva will severely test the resolve of a Brazil side already criticised for a lack of mental strength. They brushed that aside to beat Colombia in a scratchy, high-octane encounter in Fortaleza.

The match didn't quite live up to its pre-match billing as a battle of two brilliant goal-scoring young talents — James Rodriguez and Brazil's Neymar — perhaps illustrating what was at stake.

Incredibly, for two powerhouse teams that have won eight World Cups between them, the Germany-Brazil semifinal in Belo Horizonte will be just the second time the two nations have met at the showcase tournament. Brazil won the first meeting 2-0 in the World Cup final of 2002.

- AP

- Herald on Sunday

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