An improving Germany edged narrowly past neighbours France in a tantalising World Cup quarter final at the Maracana, thanks to a star performance by Borussia Dortmund centre back Mats Hummels and large scale tactical tweaks by coach Joachim Löw from the system played against Algeria. While the searing heat didn’t help the game turn into the free-flowing, star-studded spectacle that we’d all hoped for, it’s plain to see why this was one of the most exciting Quarter Finals in the draw – both teams could easily have gone on to win the tournament with a victory on Friday evening. As it is, it will be Germany who face hosts Brazil on Tuesday, with the stage set for yet more heroics.
Story of the Game
With both sides labouring to victory over energetic African outfits earlier in the week, both France and Germany instantly tried to impress themselves on the game, both going very close in the opening few minutes after some free-flowing football, something not seen for vast swathes of their Second Round games. Germany moved forward first having controlled possession for the opening few minutes, Mamadou Sakho of Liverpool hacking clear in the penalty at the second time of asking, before Karim Benzema went close at the other end, receiving the ball from Valbuena in the area and, under pressure, side footing a ball past Manuel Neuer’s post.
Germany were controlling the early exchanges but looked vulnerable to the French attack. France went close twice again, almost immediately after the Benzema miss; Mathieu Valbuena ghosted into the area but his cross only met the outstretched foot of an in-position-again Philipp Lahm, before Antoine Griezmann sprung the offside trap only for Hummels to clear. It appeared that France were satisfied to hit the Germans on the counter-attack, with some free-flowing football really troubling the immobile Höwedes in particular, while Boateng and Hummels were still attempting to forge an understanding at centre back early in the game.
It was, however, Germany who broke the deadlock. An innocuous foul by Paul Pogba on Toni Kroos gifted the 3-time World Champions a free kick in a dangerous wide position. The Bayern München midfielder stepped up to the plate in style, whipping an excellent ball into the area, where Mats Hummels outmuscled Raphaël Varane and flicked a header home, off the crossbar, past Hugo Lloris. It wasn’t an entirely undeserved lead – Germany had looked very comfortable with the ball and were already performing much better than in recent games – but was, given the number of chances France had already had, maybe a little surprising. Nevertheless, the German faithful launched into that awful fan rendition of Seven Nation Army – rather than, y’know, celebrating their goal with an actual football chant. Your fan culture is usually pretty good, Germany, please step it up in that regard. Cheers.
Anyway, an early lead gave Germany a platform for the game while also knocking the stuffing out of France, who had to respond. France tried again on the counter, but Hummels was equal to it, clearing well, while the midfield trio of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos set the tempo of the game, maintaining a high level of position for Germany. The most exciting thing about this possession was that, contrary to the slightly boring retention against Algeria and the USA, Germany were probing France the whole time, playing most of the game in the French half. The German defence was looking reasonably strong – a few scares aside – as the high line they’ve employed all tournament slowly began to work, perhaps because of two slightly more mobile centre halves in Boateng and Hummels playing together, but probably also due to the added width of having an actual full back playing at full back gifted them stretching the French in defence.
Miroslav Klose was the next notable beneficiary of the meaningful German position, breaking into the area after a lovely exchange of passes involving Khedira on the edge of the French area, but as he stretched for the ball he fell to the ground dramatically. While there was definite contact from a French defender, the dramatic fall led referee Nestor Pitana to wave play on, denying Germany a great chance for a second goal, and maybe even Klose a shot at the World Cup goalscoring record outright. On balance, though, it was a reasonable decision – Klose had no right to go down in the manner he did.
Thomas Müller went close moments later, but Evra and Lloris dealt with the German winger well, before France charged up the pitch, crossing in a teasing ball which evaded everyone but the smallest man in the area, Philipp Lahm, who headed back confidently to club and country teammate Manuel Neuer. Neuer was about to make his first meaningful save of the game – leaping to his left to save a Mathieu Valbuena shot, in a movement reminiscent of a slightly less dramatic David Seaman save from Paul Peschisolido in the FA Cup in about 2003, hooking his hand around the ball and pushing it out. Unfortunately for Neuer, the ball fell right to the feet of Karim Benzema, but Mats Hummels stood between the Algerian-born forward and the goal, somehow deflecting the ball wide with his body. This was a defining moment in the first half – possibly as important in involvement for Hummels as the goal.
This was effectively the last exciting moment of the half, as players tired without the official drinks break to boost their energy levels, the heat taking its toll. The second half, however, started at a better pace, Mathieu Valbuena taking the game by the scruff of the neck but to no avail; the diminutive winger could only create half chances for himself and his teammates. It’s perhaps fair to say that France dominated the opening exchanges, but the pace soon slowed once more as the climate took its toll on the game. This in turn opened up the game, France going close through Griezmann, while Müller and Schürrle failed to get anything meaningful on an excellent Mesut Özil cross.
France threw on Loïc Rémy and Olivier Giroud to try and grab a late equaliser, but it was the players already on the pitch going close – Benzema and Matuidi both having great chances – before chaos in the Germany penalty area quickly led to a breathtaking counter which Andre Schürrle fired straight at Lloris.
It was at the end, however, Germany’s day. Christoph Kramer came on in the dying moments to see out the game, as Löw attempted to waste time, and on balance of the game it was a deserved Germany win. It’s a shame it wasn’t in the style that the first half might have hinted at, but both sides were a credit to themselves and the World Cup in an interesting game at the Maracana. Can you ask for more? Unless you’re French, no.
Player Ratings (out of 10)
Hugo Lloris – 6: Should have saved the goal. Outside of that, a commanding performance, aside from early jitters.
Mathieu Debuchy – 6: Despite playing against the awful Höwedes and defensively naïve Özil, Debuchy didn’t get up and down the flank enough to trouble Germany.
Raphaël Varane – 5: At fault for the goal, but otherwise an average performance. Not properly challenging for a header is unforgiveable, though.
Mamadou Sakho – 6: Didn’t exactly warrant playing over Koscielny from a defensive perspective, but packs a real punch in attack.
Patrice Evra – 6: Held Müller largely at bay throughout, but wasn’t a starring player. His flank was rarely targeted, perhaps a sign of respect for the Senegal-born veteran.
Yohan Cabaye – 7: Worked hard throughout, but not to as great effect as he’d have hoped.
Paul Pogba – 6: Gave away the free kick from which Germany scored – but was combative. Exactly what the game needed.
Blaise Matuidi – 7: This guy has an engine! Excellent running throughout.
Mathieu Valbuena – 8: One of the best players on the park – his effort deserved a place for him in the semi-final, if not the rest of his team.
Karim Benzema – 6: Missed a number of good chances.
Antoine Griezmann – 7: Worked well in tandem with Valbuena.
Laurent Koscielny – 6: Improved France defensively upon coming on – still confusing as to why he isn’t a starter for France.
Loïc Rémy – 6: Ineffectual.
Olivier Giroud – 6: Didn’t have very much time to affect proceedings.
Manuel Neuer – 8: Another vintage display following that performance against Algeria. Several key saves.
Philipp Lahm – 7: Looked a lot better playing in a position he’s actually suited to.
Jérôme Boateng – 7: Very strong in defence, looks a lot better centrally than wide. Improved the German high line with his increased mobility.
Mats Hummels – 10: Probably the best performance by a defender at the World Cup. A goal, several key interceptions and a great influence on the team throughout – Hummels is the complete defender.
Benedikt Höwedes – 6: Still rubbish, still not a left back.
Bastian Schweinsteiger – 6: Tried to some success to control the game, but tired towards the end and was overrun.
Sami Khedira – 5: It was clear from about the half hour mark how unfit Khedira is – obviously not his fault, but still. Why is he playing? Rani should be in Brazil instead.
Thomas Müller – 6: Back to his usual position as an attacking midfielder, deployed mainly on the right hand side, Müller was pretty invisible throughout.
Toni Kroos – 7: Grabbed a fine assist, but this was his only key involvement. Looked a bit jaded.
Mesut Özil – 7: Wasn’t as invisible as many broadcasters said he was – was the main creative force for Germany in the second half.
Miroslav Klose – 5: This guy is a hero. 36, and at his fourth and final World Cup – but, on this display, there’s no chance he should be there. Missed a few good chances and threw himself to the ground dramatically, denying his side a penalty.
Andre Schürrle – 6: Missed two good chances but stretched the game, which did help Germany a lot.
Mario Götze – 6: Didn’t really affect proceedings.
Christoph Kramer – 6: The Mönchengladbach running machine only had 2 minutes to stretch his legs, but given how poor Schweinsteiger and Khedira were towards the end, it must be only a matter of time until he gets a longer cameo?
Man of the Match
Mats Hummels. The Dortmund defender was imperious throughout, saving his side from France’s wave upon wave attacks with several key clearances and interceptions, scoring a magnificent goal in a challenge with Raphaël Varane, and making the high line finally work in Germany’s favour. He won around 95% of duels in the first half – that is insane.