RIO DE JANEIRO – It just wouldn’t be the World Cup without Germany in the semifinals.
Harnessing all their big-game experience, the Germans delivered an efficient performance to hold off France 1-0 on Friday and become the first team to reach four straight semifinals in the sport’s marquee tournament.
Defender Mats Hummels scored the winning goal in the 13th minute, outmuscling his marker on a free kick to glance a header in off the underside of the crossbar.
Criticized for poor defending in earlier matches, Germany selected a more robust lineup and restricted a flat France team to only a handful of clear-cut opportunities in muggy conditions.
“There was not much in it,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. But, “we don’t have the international experience Germany has.”
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.
And next up for Germany is a meeting with host nation Brazil, which beat Colombia 2-1 later Friday. It will be Germany’s 13th appearance in the semifinals 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 Hummels, who 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.”
France struggled to impose the kind of attacking game that made the team one of the most exciting in Brazil during the group stage, although Benzema – the team’s chief attacking threat – squandered chances in both halves.
Late in the first half, the Real Madrid striker seized on a rebound following Manuel Neuer’s save from Mathieu Valbuena’s shot but his close-range effort was deflected wide by Hummels.
Then, in stoppage time, he created space for himself about 8 yards out at an angle, but a fierce shot was swatted away by Neuer.
“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 coach Joachim Loew. “Overall it was a good performance from us.”
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 at this level, the occasion was perhaps too much for a young, revamped France team playing together at the World Cup for the first time.
A turgid first half was illuminated by the goal from Hummels, who held off Raphael Varane and met a typically dead-eye delivery from Toni Kroos with a header that gave goalkeeper Hugo Lloris no chance.
“We just weren’t efficient enough,” said Valbuena, who sat, dejected, on the field after the final whistle.
“Our efforts just weren’t enough, it’s incredibly disappointing.”
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