What’s the cure for the common cold?
Germany will go with a victory in the World Cup quarterfinals. Because despite having seven players suffering from flu-like symptoms, it rolled over France, 1-0, on Friday in Brazil.
German Coach Joachim Loew said a third of his squad came into the game with sore throats and high temperatures -- among them star striker Thomas Mueller. Another, midfielder Christoph Kramer, missed the team’s last training session because of chills.
They likely felt better after Germany advanced to the semifinals for the fourth consecutive World Cup by winning a physical game that had few real scoring opportunities, especially in the first half. And those that did arise were turned back by German keeper Manuel Neuer, who made a sterling save with his right wrist on a shot by Karim Benzama later in stoppaged time, or France’s Hugo Lloris, who made a huge foot save on a shot by Andre Schuerrle to keep it a one-goal game in the final 10 minutes of regulation.
In two cases point-blank shots went off the face of a defender, one for France and the other for Germany.
Germany got the only scoring opportunity it needed in the 13th minute and defender Mats Hummels, who missed the round-of-16 win over Algeria with a fever, made it count. The play started with Toni Kross bending a long free kick to the front of the goal for Hummels, who, charging hard from the edge of the penalty area, stuck a forearm in the chest of French defender Raphael Varane to create some space, then redirected the ball off the bottom of the crossbar with a header.
“The ball from Toni Kroos was good and I was in the right place at the right time,” Hummels said.
The game turned physical after that, with 33 fouls being whistled. And though Germany repeatedly got the best of the pushing and shoving, France never backed down -- and, in fact, had a great chance to tie the game deep in stoppage time. But Karim Benzema’s shot from the left side was knocked away by German keeper Manuel Neuer, who threw up his right arm and got enough of his wrist on the ball to keep it out of the net.
“Both teams played well defensively today,” Loew said. “There weren’t many goal scoring opportunities, which was part of our plan. We didn’t want to give France chances with the quality of strikers they possess.
“We closed them down well -- and that was the key. They did the same against us.”
But now the real work begins for the Germans. First they must get well, then they have to refocus since reaching the World Cup semifinals isn’t really an achievement for a country that has done so 10 times in the last 13 tournaments. Once there, though, its luck changes with Germany reaching the final only once since 1990, when it won its last World Cup.
The 24-year title drought that followed -- Germany’s longest since World War II -- has led to enormous pressure on Loew and his players, whose every moves have been debated and criticized at home.
Germany still has one hurdle to clear before it gets a chance at ending that dry spell, facing the winner of Friday’s late quarterfinal between Brazil and Colombia in next week’s semifinals.
For France, meanwhile, Friday’s loss mars what has been an otherwise hugely successful World Cup. Four years ago in South Africa, France went out in the first round without winning a game. But that wasn’t the most embarrassing thing about its performance.
There was also a player mutiny against Coach Raymond Domenech that led to the suspension of the entire 23-man roster, the resignation of French federation chief Jean-Pierre Escalettes and a meeting between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and team captain Thierry Henry.
For this tournament, Coach Didier Deschamps, a World Cup champion as a player, made character a determining factor in who made his team. And the French proved so tight that even after losing midfielder Franck Ribery, its best player, to injury it won its group and advanced to the quarterfinals unbeaten.
“Although our adventure in Brazil ends here and we’re sad, disappointed and frustrated, we’ll move on,” Deschamps said. “I hope this group of players can play together for a long time. I have a lot of work to do with them, but things are definitely promising.
“Today, there wasn’t much between the two sides.”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times