Mats Hummels’ first-half header, which crashed in off the crossbar in the 12th minute, was all that separated France and Germany at the Estadio do Marcana in the first of the World Cup quarter-finals. And, to be fair, they looked relatively happy with just the one-goal lead as it was France who were forced to take on the onus and come at the Germans. Make no mistake, though, Thomas Müller and company did their level best to catch France out with a second goal as les Bleus pushed higher and higher up the pitch in search of an equalising strike to force extra-time. Neither side really exhibited the high-tempo and pacey play that many had expected to see – particularly as the contest spiralled into a chaotic affair with little structure. Far from the performance of a German side going for their first World Cup title since 1990, this won’t inspire too much hope in their credentials. It was enough, yes, but it was far from convincing.
Following the restart, Didier Deschamps’ charges began to fight with a bit more urgency, and although that waned considerably, and surprisingly, as the match dragged on, it was clear they were up for the fight. And, in truth, the match descended into quite a physical affair as both sets of players resorted to brute force. And it certainly didn’t make for the most attractive of spectacles, at times, as there was a lot less scintillating football on show and a bit too much tactical fouling – Bastian Schweinsteiger, in particular, doing his best to disrupt the flow of the game whenever he could. And although there were quite a number of excellent chances on show; Karim Benzema’s last-gasp shot on Manuel Neuer’s near post as well as Andre Schurrle’s shot that dragged a foot wide of the post down the other end moments earlier, there were far more stoppages and breaks in play than football aficionados would have liked. Granted, German fans won’t mind too much now that they’re through to the last-four, but France will be disappointed they couldn’t find a way to power through and feed their front men a bit more efficiently
Right now, Paul Pogba, Mathieu Valbuena and Benzema as well as the rest of the French squad are going to feel pretty low after a loss like this, but once the dust settles and they begin to assess the loss, it’s likely they won’t feel as bad afterwards. In fact, in comparison with their most recent showing at the World Cup finals, this has been a resounding success. Famously in 2010, they failed to emerge from their group as in-fighting and poor morale interfered with an otherwise quality bunch of stars. This time around, they’ve reached the final eight, and although some cynical pundits will prefer to see this as a negative result, it’s clear that if they work on their productivity and ability to push up a gear in the closing stages of big games, they’ll fare rather well on home soil at France 2016. With rising Juventus star Pogba coming into his own as a performer, and with a core group of experience and raw talent around him, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility we’ll see them celebrating a big victory on home soil in two years time.
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