It just would not be the World Cup without Germany in the semi-finals.
Harnessing all their big-game experience, Germany delivered a performance of maturity and efficiency to hold off France 1-0 on Friday and become the first team to reach four straight semi-finals in the sport’s marquee tournament.
Defender Mats Hummels scored the winning goal in the 13th minute, outmuscling his marker at 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 to only a handful of clear-cut opportunities in muggy conditions.
“There was not much in it,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. However, “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 Germany squad 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. It is to be Germany’s 13th appearance in the semi-finals 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 8m 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 they have played, but remain without a title since winning the European Championships in 1996.
While Germany seem 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.
And the result continued Germany’s recent dominance over France at World Cups.
The most notorious of the previous meetings was in the 1982 semi-finals 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 — could not 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 Toni Kroos with a header that gave goalkeeper Hugo Lloris no chance.
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.
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 after a counterattacking play.