On the 60th anniversary to the day of Germany's first World Cup title win, the so-called Wonder of Bern, the Germans kept their hopes alive of winning a fourth World Cup, thanks to 1-0 quarterfinal win over France in Rio de Janeiro.
The victory at Maracana sends the Germans, who haven’t lifted the title since 1990, to a fourth straight World Cup semifinal.
Before facing France, Coach Joachim Loew’s team was criticized by the German fans and media for its labored performance in a 2-1 overtime win over Algeria, leaving the players complaining that “We can’t please anyone.”
“When we play like ballerinas, they say we lack fortitude,” said German striker Thomas Mueller. “And when we win with grit, one gets the feeling we have to apologize.”
The win over France, thanks to Mats Hummels’ header off Toni Kroos’ free kick in the 13th minute, came more thanks more German efficiency than flair. But this time there won’t be many, if any, complaints.
Beating France, which scored 10 World Cup goals in its first four games and has been Germany’s most heralded opponent so far at this World Cup, will have the Germans believing that their first title since the Euro 96 is within reach.
Key reasons for optimism are:
Central midfield stability. The return to fitness of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira -- both of whom arrived in Brazil below 100 percent -- enabled Loew to start the duo in midfield for the first time in Brazil and return Philipp Lahm right back. Schweinsteiger and Khedira prevented the French midfield, with the highly touted Paul Pogba, from finding its rhythm. Lahm is a capable defensive midfielder, but his ball skills were needed desperately on the backline that Loew had packed with four central defenders in the previous games.
World-class Matts. Hummels is by far Germany’s best central defender, on both sides of the ball. Also a scorer in the opening 4-0 win over Portugal, he was sorely missed when the flu sidelined him against the Algerians, who allowed Hummels’ replacement, Pers Mertsacker as much of the ball as he wanted. The lanky Arsenal back is much less capable on it than Hummels, who along with Lahm on the backline give the Germans much more composure when midfielders are closely marked.
Sweeper-keeper with quick, strong hands. Manuel Neuer made a diving one-handed save on Mathieu Valbuena’s close-range effort in the 34th minute and again used his powerful paw to block Karim Benzema’s blast to prevent a last-second equalizer. Not to be underestimated is how Neuer’s foot skills enable the German defenders use him when they’re under pressure, as they did several times when the French pressed.
Attacking depth. The 36-year-old Miroslav Klose, whose goal off the bench in the 2-2 tie with Ghana tiedRonaldo’s record for all-time World Cup goals at 15, got his first start against the French. Although he didn’t come close to hitting the net, he kept the French central defense occupied enough to prevent the double-marking on Thomas Mueller as in the Algeria game.
Off the bench came speedy winger Andre Schurrle, overtime scorer as a sub against Algeria, who kept the French under pressure late in the game and forced a foot save from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and a desperate block from French defenderRaphael Varane. Also bringing energy to the German attack in the final minutes was Mario Goetze.
Counting European Championships, the Germans have now reached the final four of their last six major tournaments. A core of the current squad has been part of the most recent campaigns. None of the teams still alive in Brazil boast that kind of experience.