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The Germans resisted the challenge of their European counterparts and emerged victorious. Constantin Eckner analyses the victory that sends Germany through to another semi-final.
At the end of a very highly anticipated clash, Germany reached their fourth consecutive World Cup semi-final as Mats Hummels opened the scoring from a set piece in the 12th minute, scoring what turned out to be the winner. Germany looked dangerous going forward in the early phases, while France tried to exploit the space behind the high defensive line of Löw’s team. The scoreline is a perfect reflection of how close the game was, with both sides having ample opportunities to score goals. Eventually, the game fell in favour of the Germans, who just managed to take their chances on the day.
France (4-1-4-1): Lloris, Debuchy, Varane, Sakho (Koscielny 71’), Evra, Cabaye (Remy 73’), Valbuena (Giroud 85’), Pogba, Matuidi, Griezmann, Benzema
Germany (4-3-3): Neuer, Lahm, Boateng, Hummels, Höwedes, Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Kroos (Kramer 90‘), Özil (Götze 83‘), Müller, Klose (Schürrle 69‘)
Goal: Hummels 12’
Joachim Löw made a couple of changes by doing what many people had expected of him. Starting from the first game, Germany’s defensive line had four men who prefer to play at centre-back. However, Löw changed his mind and put Philipp Lahm back in right back. Therefore, the German coach shuffled the midfield a bit. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira were back together in the starting lineup playing alongside Toni Kroos in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 hybrid. Miroslav Klose moved up front. Per Mertesacker being left on the bench for Jerome Boateng made sense because both centre-backs needed the pace to cover Karim Benzema and to defend long balls behind the backline.
Just one change was made from the France line-up involved in the victory over Nigeria, with Antoine Griezmann in for Olivier Giroud. Les Bleus mostly played in a 4-1-4-1 that became offensively a 4-1-2-3.
Off the ball France showed a solid organization of their midfield. They formed a tight block behind Benzema and tried to lead Germany’s passes in the build-up to the flanks. However, there was a lack of compactness behind Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi. Mesut Özil was hardly involved as he was trapped in the cover shadow. The Arsenal man is not at his best at the moment. Khedira drifted a few times forward to help breaking France’s midfield line.
France saw less of the ball in the first minutes. Les Bleus tried to capitalize on mistakes after long phases of German ball circulation. They focussed on counter attacks. Leaving the ball to the Germans was a good approach. However, Mats Hummels scored early in the game. Kroos delivered a perfect free kick into the box which Hummels headed past Lloris. France looked stunned and lost for a while.
After the goal, France began to find a passing rhythm. Yohan Cabaye dropped between the centre-backs and played the first passes. Mathieu Debuchy pushed forward, while Mathieu Valbuena searched for the right space. Benedikt Höwedes was often criticised in the last few weeks, but the Schalke man was absolutely fine as left-back against Valbuena and Debuchy. It says a lot that Valbuena was moved to the left flank in the second half.
The Germans kept a high backline and invited balls in over the top. France attempted to work through the left side. Antoine Griezmann received many passes, but was unlucky in the game.
It was also a battle in midfield with a lack of space for France to drive into. Schweinsteiger and Khedira took the threat of Matuidi and Pogba away. Both German holding midfielders were industrious in taking them in man-marking, while Kroos brought balance to the midfield. Matuidi and Pogba had their best actions when they tried to break through quickly. Benzema also frequently took up wider positions to create space for the midfielders.
In Germany’s first games, Löw played Khedira or Schweinsteiger to the right of Lahm, with Kroos pushing forward from the left. The base of midfield has not offered anything like cover for the back four, which itself was vulnerable to pace from out wide. Löw took an interesting step by switching Lahm to right-back and fielding Boateng alongside Hummels. But, again, a number of times a simple ball over the top got Germany’s backline into trouble.
Germany created zero chances from open play in the first half. Miroslav Klose displayed a solid performance. He found some space between Yohan Cabaye and the French centre-backs and played a couple of passes into the channels, while Thomas Müller made some diagonal runs. Klose’s movement was great in the first half, but the 36-year-old was exhausted after 60 minutes.
Germany slowed down the game intelligently in the first minutes of the second half. France tried to speed it up later on. Deschamps brought in Loic Remy for Cabaye. A couple of minutes later the French coach swapped Mathieu Valbuena and Olivier Giroud and he changed the formation into a 4-2-4 with two centre forwards, but the distance from Matuidi and Pogba to the striker was greater and it was difficult to play long balls behind the defence and easier for Germany to defend.
Deschamps was not showing tactical genius, when he introduced extra attackers. More players in the box complicated things. France needed to increase their presence in the penalty box by providing depth instead of overloading central spaces too much. France threatened mainly in the first half when les Bleus knocked the ball in behind the defence. However, they seemed lost when that was not an option anymore.
Unquestionably Mats Hummels. He scored not only the deciding goal but also made seven effective clearances and two interceptions. The 25-year-old prevented any meaningful chances from the French frontline, while running the German backline. The Borussia Dortmund man is the hope for Germany’s defence, besides the equally superb Manuel Neuer.
Germany progressed to the FIFA World Cup semi-finals and Löw’s team has a date with Brazil in Belo Horizonte next Tuesday. They want to put memories of the Spain semi-final four years ago behind them. Getting a win would help them do not only that, but also get closer to that major trophy the country so desperately craves from this generation of talented footballers. France remains an exceptionally young side that can continue to grow ahead of Euro 2016 on home ground. That will be the tournament they want to peak for, and while they will obviously be disappointed about the result, reflection will reveal that this was probably a good showing, and Deschamps can be proud of his side.