Germany first team into World Cup semis

BEN STANLEY IN RIO DE JANEIRO
Last updated 09:17 05/07/2014
Mats Hummels
Reuters
GLORY IS HIS: Mats Hummels celebrates after nodding in the match-winning goal for Germany.

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Germany defender Per Mertesacker said coach Joachim Loew made the right decision to leave him on the bench in the quarterfinal at the World Cup in Brazil, adding he was happy to be the ''water boy and cheerleader'' if it helped.

Germany reached the World Cup semifinals for a record fourth time in a row with a 1-0 victory over France thanks to Mats Hummels' 13th minute header and Mertesacker believes Loew did everything perfectly in the game at the Maracana.

''The coach made all the right decisions and you can't have a more fortunate hand than he did,'' Mertesacker said of Loew's three changes to the lineup - including putting him on the bench despite his being near flawless in their first four matches.

''He carries the overall responsibility and everyone on the team has a job to do. It doesn't matter to me if I'm the water boy or the cheerleader,'' added Mertesacker who carried water bottles to teammates during a break late in the match.

Loew went out of his way to praise the 29-year-old Mertesacker for the altruism that underscores Germany's team ethic, saying the Arsenal defender had taken the news that he would not play against France without even a whimper.

''When I told him last night, he said 'Alles klar' coach, I'm here to help the team any way I can','' Loew said.

''It was incredibly professional. He's extremely important to the team.''

Mertesacker, who has 102 caps, was a bulwark of Loew's defence in their first four matches in which unbeaten Germany gave up only two goals, winning three and drawing one.

''On the pitch you can feel how strong our team spirit is, even if I got to see that from a different perspective today,'' Mertesacker said.

''We've got to keep that special quality to the end. It has to be like that. Otherwise, we don't have a chance to win the World Cup.

''We've got a great team. The only thing that might have been in short supply at times is that not everyone has always been able to be satisfied,'' he added, an oblique reference to reports that some leading players, such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, are not as content coming off the bench.

''I've grown so much,'' added Mertesacker.

''This is the third straight World Cup semi-final for a lot of us. We lost the last two. We don't want to repeat that again.''

HISTORY HAUNTS FRANCE

France came wanting to avenge ghosts of the past, but in the end the Maracana would be their graveyard.

With their typically organised style, German's win was well-deserved, if largely un-entertaining. Germany's winner, which came from the head of defender Mat Hummels in the 12th minute, was all the giants of European football would need.

It looked an inevitable result throughout. The German defensive effort, anchored by their hard-working captain Philip Lahm, showed few cracks - while midfielders Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger bossed the French around the middle of the park.

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While they were able to keep German goal machine Thomas Muller at bay in the box, French opportunities to score were rare.

Juventus star Paul Pogba worked hard to provide Karim Benzema with good service in the first half before tiring, while Antonie Griezmann showed spark - only to be outdone by a general lack of French assistance in the second stanza.

Over the past 25 meetings, France held the slight edge over their European brothers with 11 victories to Germany's eight - along with six draws.

Of course, few people remember 1-0 friendlies played in Bordeaux or Hamburg - it's at the World Cup where games really count.

That's where the Germans had the clear edge, with victories over their European neighbours in the semifinals of both the 1982, and 1986 World Cups.

The 1982 encounter in Seville, Spain - considered one of the greatest games in World Cup history - featured one of the tournament's biggest ever talking points when German keeper Toni Schumacher broke the jaw of Patrick Battiston.

The Germans won on penalties after the match finished 3-3 in extra time, and from the early minutes of their latest arm wrestle in Rio de Janeiro, it looked like another goal fest was eminent.

Kroos and Schweinsteiger held the pace of the game; rarely allowing their opponents ascendancy in the middle of the park.

While Benzema's ninth minute wide attempt, after some clever French passing in the box, represented his side's only chance of the opening quarter, the Germans swarmed forward, showing no signs of a flu bug that had swept through their camp recently.

The opening goal came from a slick free kick from Kroos that Hummels was able to get his head on, thanks to some inept marking by French defender Raphael Varane.

The lead, combined with Germany's dominance, seemed to slump all French shoulders - but for those of Pogba.

The midfielder created space for his strikers to move, releasing Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena for good, but wasted opportunities.

Valbuena fired in France's best chance late in the half - forcing a fingertip save by Manuel Neuer.

The match's tempo wound right down in the second half with Germany expertly turning the screws.

Jerome Boateng and Hummels provided the Germans with a stonewall at the back of the park, with Pogba's creative chances limited.

The French, bizarrely, seemed to see their urgency ebb - and should have conceded a late second goal, but for poor finishing from Muller, and substitute striker Andrew Schuerrle.

The French would give the Maracana's 74,240 fans late heart palpitations with a Valbuena shot going wide of the left post - but ultimately it was the result between the European giants that the match's play actually warranted.

 

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