Four in a row for Germany: Seville ’82, this wasn’t. Thirty-two years ago, France and West Germany faced off in the semifinals in one of the best World Cup games in tournament history at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan, with the Germans emerging victorious in a dramatic penalty shootout. Friday’s contest won’t go down in the World Cup annals—in fact, this lifeless affair will soon be forgotten. That’ll hardly concern Germany, who is through to the semifinals for a fourth straight tournament. After some shaky performances, including last time out versus Algeria, the Germans tightened things up considerably against the French. Phillip Lahm was back in his natural right back position, Mats Hummels anchored a robust defence, and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira were deployed as double pivots. The result: A German side that wasn’t particularly flashy going forward, but also a team that France couldn’t carve open. Suffocating your opponent ain’t sexy. It can be effective, though. You want flashy football? Look elsewhere, because the Germans aren’t your team. They’re not concerned with playing the “right way.” That said, they have impressed, and are deserving of their final-four berth. After coming close in the last three World Cups, they want to win, regardless of how they do it. In that regard, this German team is reminiscent of the great 1982 side that didn’t give a damn about how they got it done. Ask Harald Schumacher.
As for the French, they have nothing to be ashamed about. Think about where they were four years ago—how an ugly player revolt saw Les Bleus completely unravel and crash out in the group stage in South Africa. The team was is complete chaos, with Raymond Domenich steering a rudderless ship of fools. A French revolution took place under Laurent Blanc and continued under Didier Deschamps—several of the malcontents were shown the door while Blanc and Deschamps injected some vital youth into the program. The result has been a revamped French side brimming with quality (Paul Pogba, Raphael Varane and Blaise Matuidi to mention just three names) and character—hard to imagine Domenich’s men would have battled back from a two-goal deficit in the playoffs like Deschamp’s squad did in the second leg versus Ukraine. France showed plenty of promise in Brazil. They’ll be a team to keep an eye on in the coming years.
Fond farewell to Colombia: The World Cup suffered a major setback on Friday with the elimination of Colombia, easily the best team of this tournament thus far. Before today, the Colombians secured four victories from four games, each of them won with style and panache. Los Cafeteros were an absolute pleasure to watch, embodying the attacking spirit that has defined the competition in Brazil. How wonderful has it been to watch James Rodriguez blossom into a global super star? Or to see defender Mario Yepes, at 38, turn back the clock and play his best soccer in years? Or watching Juan Cuadrado come of age? How great has it been to witness a team, written off by many pundits after Radamel Falcao picked up a season-ending knee injury back in January, prove so many so wrong? They’ve embodied the jogo bonito philosophy far more than the host nation. It’s a cruel game because often times the best team doesn’t win. Often it’s simply a matter of survival. That’s what Brazil did: It survived, doing so at the expense of a fabulous Colombian team who more than any other nation left a lasting impression on the game the past three weeks.
So Brazil is through to the semifinals, but at what cost? Thiago Silva, an influential figure in the centre of defence, is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, while Neymar is out injured for the rest of the tournament. And no less of a nation than Germany, set to compete in its fourth consecutive semifinal, awaits the hosts who have yet to dominate an opponent. It’s hard to recall a less impressive or unlikeable Brazilian side in recent times than this one. They’ve been more grit than grace, their path to the semis paved, in some small part, by beneficial decisions from the officials (that penalty call versus Croatia, and the Spanish referee today who called non-existent fouls on the Colombians). This is a team that only its fans could possibly love. It’s not a side beloved by the neutral supporter. The Selecao have not inspired—David Luiz’s amazing goal, notwithstanding. They haven’t impressed. They haven’t amazed. They’ve just hung around. They’ve made full use of home-field advantage—if this World Cup was being staged in any other country, this depressingly average Brazil team would have been eliminated long ago.
2014 FIFA World Cup: Sportsnet.ca is your home for in-depth coverage of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. TV viewers can watch all 64 games on CBC and Sportsnet from June 12 to July 13. Be sure to watch Connected every night on Sportsnet for all of the latest news and analysis. And check out Sportsnet magazine’s team profiles of all 32 nations.
Stat of the day
4 – Germany are the first team in #WorldCup history to reach four consecutive semi-finals. Machine.
David Luiz scored a goal of the tournament candidate in the 69th minute when the Brazilian hit a knuckleball of a free kick from 30 yards that sailed past Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina and into the upper corner of the net.
Save of the day
With France pressing for an equalizer deep into injury time, Karim Benzema busted into the penalty area after working a clever give-and go in tight space. The Real Madrid man fired a powerful shot at an angle that would have tucked under the crossbar had German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer not thrown up his hand and blocked the ball with his wrist.
Best moment of the day
It had to be David Luiz consoling a teary-eyed James Rodriguez after the game. A classy move by Luiz.
1) Mats Hummels: One word describes the centre back’s performance: Immense. Scored the winner, was involved in the attack (he made 44 passes) and was outstanding in quarterbacking Germany’s defence. 2) James Rodriguez: Another valiant and gutsy performance from the Colombian, who bagged his tournament-leading sixth goal in a losing effort. 3) David Luiz: The defender scored a pile-driver and helped Brazil’s defence successfully repel the Colombians for most of the match.