Germany beats France 1-0, reaches World Cup semis
By Steve Douglas
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Germany relied on its big-game experience to hold off France 1-0 on Friday, with Mats Hummels' first-half header securing the German team a spot in the semifinals for the fourth straight World Cup.
The center back settled a cagey match in muggy conditions at Maracana Stadium with his 13th-minute goal, outmuscling his marker at a free kick to glance a header in off the underside of the crossbar.
Criticized for its poor defending in earlier matches, Germany selected a more robust team, tightened up at the back and restricted a flat-looking France team to only a handful of clear-cut opportunities.
While the French exited with a whimper, Germany can look forward to a match against the winner of Friday's later quarterfinal match between Brazil and Colombia.
"There was not much in it," said France coach Didier Deschamps, whose young and revamped side hadn't been expected to advance further than the last eight. "We don't have the international experience Germany has."
France was not given many chances to impose the kind of attacking game that made Les Bleus one of the most exciting lineups in Brazil during the group stage, although Karim Benzema could have sent the game into extra time with an opportunity in stoppage time. Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer swatted the angled shot away.
"We played like a team again," said Germany captain Philipp Lahm, who was returned to right back in one of a string of tactically astute changes made by coachJoachim Loew. "Overall it was a good performance from us. It wasn't easy today."
In Loew's eight-year tenure, Germany has reached the last four in every major tournament it has played - but remains without a title since winning the European Championships in 1996.
While the German team seemed comfortable on the big stage, the occasion was perhaps too much for a young, revamped France team playing together in football's marquee tournament for the first time.
It guaranteed Europe at least one representative in the semifinals - the Netherlands and Belgium also have chances to qualify on Saturday - and continued Germany's recent dominance over France at World Cups.
The most notorious of those was the meeting in the 1982 semifinals in Spain, when Germany won on penalties following a 3-3 draw in a match marked by a late and high tackle by Germany goalkeeper Harald Schumacher on France defender Patrick Battiston that escaped punishment.
That went down as one of the most riveting matches in World Cup history, but the rematch - 32 years on - couldn't have been more different.
A turgid first half was illuminated by the goal from Hummels, who held off Raphael Varane and met a typically dead-eye delivery from Kroos with a header that gave goalkeeper Hugo Lloris no chance.
France pierced Germany's high defensive line on occasions, producing chances for Mathieu Valbuena and Benzema that needed the intervention of Neuer.
The warm and humid conditions played a part in the slow tempo of the game but France stepped up the pressure in the second half, with Neuer saving a header from Varane as the center back tried to atone for his weak defending for the goal.
Benzema's late chance got French fans excited but Germany should have been 2-0 ahead by then, with Lloris saving a low shot by substitute Andre Schuerrle on a counter-attack.
"We just weren't efficient enough," said Valbuena, who sat on the ground looking dejected after the final whistle. "Our efforts just weren't enough, it's incredibly disappointing."