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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 24 November 2020
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Hummels the hero as Germany push through against France to reach the semis

The centre-back’s first-half goal was enough to separate the sides writes Mikey Stafford in the Maracana.

Image: David Vincent/AP/Press Association Images

Mikey Stafford reports from Estadio Maracana

France 0-1 Germany

MATS HUMMELS WAS getting over the flu but it was France who looked under the weather as they exited the World Cup meekly, unable in 77 minutes to conjure up a response to the German centre-half’s winning goal.

The Borussia Dortmund defender needed one chance to win the game, with his second goal of the tournament, and in the closing stages he was on hand to brilliantly block Karim Benzema’s left-foot shot.

The Real Madrid striker is an enigmatic soul and today his infuriating, wasteful side shone through. Selected to play through the middle in place of Olivier Giroud the 26 year-old could not convert any of the seven goal chances that came his way.

The final one, in the 94th minute, was his best attempt. Free from the clutches of Hummels, he unleashed a fierce left-foot shot that was bound for the top corner until Manuel Neuer deflected it back out the field with a right hand so strong many inside this vast, sun-drenched stadium thought it had hit the crossbar.

 

Brazil Soccer WCup Germany France Source: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP/Press Association Images

His coach Joachim Löw reckons the Bayern Munich stopper is good enough to play in midfield but it would be in Germany’s interests to leave him exactly where he is. France were underwhelming in the second half but had it not been for three fine saves from the goalkeeper, Didier Deschamps’ team may have sauntered into the semi-finals despite themselves.

A third of Germany’s squad had been ill in the build-up to this match but after an encouraging end to the first half, it was France who were struck down by a sense of ennui, which meant Germany could, for the most part, quite comfortably defend the lead they had taken with Hummels’ excellent header from a Toni Kroos free-kick in the 13th minute.

By that stage France were gambling at the wrong end, captain Hugo Lloris very nearly dispossessed after some ill-advised ball-play on the edge of his area.

Either side of Benzema were the diminutive pair of Antoine Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena, who looked France’s best chance of creating something but after bright starts to the second half both men began to show the wear and tear of a bruising afternoon among Germany’s sizeable defence and midfield.

Griezmann was hauled to the ground early in the second half after initially escaping Sami Khedira and five foot six inch Valbuena was twice flattened under ill-advised high balls from own team-mates.

Germany did look more forceful with Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield after the return of captain Philipp Lahm to full-back. The other change made from the extra-time win over Algeria was the inclusion of Miroslav Klose up front but by the three-quarter mark the veteran striker was blowing smoke and the introduction of the energetic Andre Schurrle allowed Germany to relieve the pressure that had seen Raphael Varane go close from a corner.

But for all their possession France did very little in the second half and as the clock ticked down on their World Cup it was Germany who looked more likely to ease their passage to a third consecutive semi-final with a second goal. Thomas Muller and Schurrle both enjoyed half chances before the Chelsea attacker had a golden opportunity to put the result beyond doubt in the 81st minute.

Mesut Ozil broke down the left and when Muller missed his low cross the ball fell perfectly for Schurrle at the back post, yet despite having time and space his left foot shot straight at Lloris lacked conviction.

 

Brazil Soccer WCup Germany France Source: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP/Press Association Images

Moments earlier Hummels, who had marshalled Benzema brilliantly was very lucky to see an inadvertent header bounce just wide of his own goal, but France had largely drifted out of the game and the introduction of Giroud and Loic Remy never looked like saving them.

Germany will now face the winners of Brazil and Colombia in the first semi-final in Belo Horizonte next Tuesday.

Changes

Both managers changed tack in advance of just their fourth ever competitive meeting and the first since the reunification of Germany. Löw insisted yesterday he took no notice of the opinion of pundits and past players but the critics got what they wanted as he withdrew captain Lahm to his best position of full-back.

Klose, who still needs one more goal to surpass Ronaldo as the top goal-scorer in World Cup finals history, was handed his first start of the tournament as Löw abandoned the experiment with Muller as a false nine, despite the Bayern Munich man scoring four goals in as many games.

The disappointing Mario Götze and the unlucky, or possibly flu-ridden, Per Mertesacker were the two to miss out.

For France Mamadou Sakho recovered from his thigh injury and replaced Laurent Koscielny in the centre of defence but the more significant change was up front, where Arsenal’s Giroud was dropped in favour of Griezmann, allowing Benzema to take up his favoured position through the middle. Despite those seven chances he could not repay Deschamps’ faith.

As they did in the early stages against Ghana and the United States, Germany had the lion’s share of possession but the addition of a genuine striker in Klose allowed Ozil and Muller to operate more like genuine wingers and the addition of width transformed their attacking play.

Khedira and Schweinsteiger made for a far less accommodating midfield but Germany were still asking for trouble by playing a similar high line that required Neuer to play as a fly keeper against Algeria.

Starved of possession the best early chances still fell to France with Valbuena and Griezmann both getting on to balls played down the left channel. Griezmann’s low centre in the direction of Benzema was cut out expertly by Hummels but Valbuena’s found the Real Madrid striker who volleyed wide from 10 yards.

 

Brazil Soccer WCup Germany France Source: Matthias Schrader/AP/Press Association Images

The French midfield displayed its edge against Nigeria and once more Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye were throwing themselves about and it was a foul by Pogba on Kroos that delivered the opener for Germany.

The Bayern Munich playmaker took the free himself, floating an inviting ball from left to right across the goal and Hummels muscled Varane out of the way to flick a header in off the underside of the crossbar.

With Ozil and Muller drifting across the field the Germans were getting into their stride now and nice interplay between Lahm and Khedira on the edge of the area released Muller who hit the ground hard under a tackle from Mathieu Debuchy — the referee was having none of it.

However by pressing France so high Germany were once again leaving themselves exposed to balls over the top and when Griezmann got on the end of one down the right and floated a cross to Valbuena, Neuer had to pull off a fine save to his right and Hummels deflected Benzema’s follow-up over the bar.

The impetus was now with France and two more chances came Benzema’s way. First he headed straight at Hummels after Patrice Evra had crossed from the left and then he cut inside himself from the left only to shoot straight at Neuer.

Benzema would have three more chances in the second half but nothing was doing. It’s he and his team-mates’ turn to feel sick.

France (4-3-3): Hugo Lloris; Mathieu Debuchy, Raphael Varane, Mamadou Sakho (Laurent Koscielny 72), Patrice Evra; Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye (Loic Remy 73), Blaise Matuidi; Mathieu Valbuena (Olivier Giroud 85), Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann
Germany (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Benedikt Howedes; Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger; Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos (Christoph Kramer 92), Mesut Ozil (Mario Gotze 83); Miroslav Klose (Andre Schurrle 69)

Booked: Khedira 54′, Schweinsteiger 80′

Man of the match: Mats Hummels

Referee: Nestor Pitana (Argentina)

Attendance: 74,240

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About the author:

Mikey Stafford

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