As expected, the quips about war and the winners getting Alsace-Lorraine were rolled out on social media, but the tempestuous soccer history between Germany and France has seen plenty of conflict on the field. The West Germans triumphed in both 1982 and 1986 on their way to the World Cup final — most infamously in the latter case when their goalkeeper nearly killed France’s Patrick Battiston.
Friday’s 1-0 German victory, however, was perhaps not as dramatic (or X-Rated) as their past two meetings at the World Cup. In fact, one might even go as far to say it was one of the most disappointing games of the tournament. Having been widely criticized in his homeland for his selections, German Coach Joachim Löw took the expected step of dropping Arsenal’s struggling defender, Per Mertesacker, and restoring the fit-again Mats Hummels.
In addition, despite repeated assertions he couldn’t bow to public pressure, Löw shifted captain Philipp Lahm back into defense, while veteran striker Miroslav Klose started up front in search of his elusive record-breaking World Cup goal.
French Coach Didier Deschamp tinkered a little with his line-up himself, starting Antoine Griezmann at the expense of Olivier Giroud.
In a first half, where they struggled to gain much of a foothold, it was the French who almost went ahead in the opening minutes. Having seen the extent that Germany struggled against Algeria with long balls, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema looked to cause his opponents problems after just six minutes, only for his shot to go wide of Manuel Neuer’s goal. On another day, as he does so often at club level, Benzema would have put the French ahead.
Minutes later, France was made to pay for their early profligacy when the outstanding Hummels simply outmuscled Real Madrid’s Raphaël Varane before heading home a perfect free-kick from Toni Kroos. Given how loose his marking was on Hummels, Varane might want to watch the replay — if he can bear it. The first half came to a conclusion with yet another opportunity for the Real Madrid striker wasted yet again as Blaise Matuidi stood in a wide-open space. Ominously, it was noted that the French had never won a World Cup game while being 1-0 behind at half-time.
Given the sheer number of opportunities both sides enjoyed throughout the first 45, fans would be disappointed in the second half as players were profligate in front of goal, and both goalkeepers put in stubborn performances. French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris saved from André Schürrle after Thomas Müller failed to connect. Replays showed that both Schürrle and Müller should have made the French pay and come that little bit closer to booking their place in the next round. But it was Benzema, again, who repeatedly squandered chances as Didier Deschamp threw on strikers Giroud and Loic Remy to provide additional firepower.
Unfortunately for Les Bleus, their endeavors would come to nothing. Despite several half-chances and Neuer beating away Benzema’s explosive effort right at the death, it would be Germany who would progress — becoming the first nation ever to reach four consecutive World Cup semi-finals.
What we learned about France: After their recent debacles at World Cups and European Championships, there is a sense that this French side has restored a great deal of national pride. Neuer certainly had a good game in goals for Germany, but the finger will be pointed at Benzema, who failed to bring his shooting boots. Still, the French can look forward to the next four years, as players like Paul Pogba and Griezmann continue to develop their world-class talents. The main problem? Holding onto Deschamp as coach. Will the former French captain look to complete the turnaround in Les Bleus’ fortunate? Or will the pull of returning to domestic management be too lucrative? One suspects the latter.
What we learned about Germany: Another scrappy performance from Germany, but it was a relief to see Hummels restored to the back after his illness — they’ve missed him greatly. Since the Borussia Dortmund defender fell ill in their opening game against Portugal, the Germans have often struggled at the back, as their performances against Ghana and Algeria showed. Although the Germans can be thankful that Benzema had a game he’d probably rather forget, some fingers will be pointed at Die Mannschaft’s own attackers, who had the opportunity to put the French to the sword but failed. Not one of their better performances by any means, but with a place in the semi-final, fans back in Germany will find it tougher to criticize Löw.
Ewan Watt writes extensively on state and national issues in the U.S., covering the 2012 presidential election for both print and online publications. He is providing commentary for the Daily Caller on a regular basis throughout the World Cup. He writes strictly in a personal capacity. You can follow him on Twitter [email protected]