July 4th is a special day in German football history. On that day in 1954 the West Germans came from two goals down to beat Ferenc Puskás’ Mighty Magyars and lift their very first World Cup in what is known as ‘The Miracle of Bern’. Perhaps it is fitting that Joachim Löw’s side progressed on the anniversary of that game and did so with relative ease against a disappointing French team.
In a repeat of the 1982 World Cup semifinal, the French who were thus far impressive in this tournament failed to spark. Germany scored the goal that counted in the 12th minute and have now progressed to their 10th World Cup semifinal in 13 tournaments since 1966. This was an impressive display by the Germans and it’ll take something special to stop them from reaching another final.
Here are my 5 observations from the France-Germany game:
1. German midfield dominated Pogba and company
Joachim Löw made a couple of tactical switches shifting Philipp Lahm to right back and drafting in Miroslav Klose as an out and out striker. It was his midfield though that shone with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira bossing that area of the pitch. Off the ball they closed the space, overloaded the area where an opponent had possession and suffocated the French midfield. When they had the ball the trio passed with confidence and penetration. Staying tight as a unit allowed the midfield three to play intricate football and gave Lahm and Benedikt Höwedes the opportunity to break into the wide spaces. At times they threatened to cut right through the French defense.
The Germans duly took the lead in the 12th minute when Toni Kroos curled in a delightful free kick that Mats Hummel headed home after outmuscling Raphaël Varane. Shortly after Sami Khedira played in Miroslav Klose but unfortunately for the German frontman his touch was a bit too heavy.
If a team can manage to tame the trio of Schweinsteiger, Kroos and Khedira they’ll go a long way to beating the Germans.
2. France had joy with balls over the top
Despite the Germans being the better side they were vulnerable to balls over the top as a result playing a relatively high line. Mathieu Valbuena and Antoine Griezmann found pockets of space and exploited the wide areas. Indeed had Karim Benzema been a little more clinical and were it not for the intervention of Manuel Neuer who made a good save from Valbuena the French could have scored a goal or two despite being off the pace.
Yohan Cabaye was playing extremely deep, at times in line with his defenders. When he did play five to ten yards further up he was able to spray long passes. More often that not though he was a fair distance away from Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba who were overrun in the midfield area. Indeed for long periods of the match the Juventus star was out of the game and didn’t really influence events as much as he would have liked.
3. Quiet Özil a cause for concern but Manuel Neuer comes up trumps
Mesut Özil’s underwhelming World Cup continued. The Arsenal star flitted in and out of the game with a couple of dangerous contributions including the late counter attack that led to an André Schürrle chance but overall he was pretty anonymous. With Mario Göetze waiting in the wings how much longer will Joachim Löw persist with Özil in the starting eleven?
At the other end of the pitch Manuel Neuer highlighted his importance for the Germans. On top of saving from Mathieu Valbuena in the first half he got a strong hand to a stinging Karim Benzema shot right at the death to prevent a dramatic equalizer. Neuer didn’t have much to do but when required he was alert and overall a dependable presence for Germany. With all the goals flying in the World Cup a top class goalkeeper could be the difference between winning and losing the trophy.
4. Deschamps waited too long to change the game:
With the match drifting away from his side Didier Deschamps waited until the 71st minute to make a substitution and even then it was Laurent Koscielny for the wasteful Mamadou Sakho. He made an attacking change two minutes later bringing on Loīc Rémy for Yohan Cabaye. He then waited for the 85th minute to bring on Olivier Giroud to partner the heavily marked Karim Benzema.
Benzema should have put away at least one of his chances but he wasn’t helped by tactics which asked him to plow a lone furrow against three German defenders. Benzema was constantly outnumbered and despite Les Bleus getting into good positions it was telling that Germany had numbers back and defend whilst the French had few options to aim for.
It was understandable that Deschamps wanted to match the power of the Germans hence opting for Sakho and keeping the faith with Blaise Matuidi but the pair gave away possession too cheaply and invited pressure onto the back line. To be fair Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann had disappointing games too but Deschamps allowed the match to drift and didn’t change the personnel or formation till it was too late.
Indeed Benzema linked up with Olivier Giroud for France’s last minute opportunity. If Giroud and the other subs had come on a little earlier the game could have been different. “C’est la vie,” as the expression goes.
France fell behind for the first time in the World Cup and Deschamps had no answer to the questions posed by Germany.
5. Accurate passing goes a long way
The Germans were far more decisive with the ball and used possession well. Had it not been for the heroics of Hugo Lloris at the end and Raphaël Varane’s (painful) block André Schürrle would have had two late goals to his name. Indeed when in attacking areas the Germans played the right passes at the right times.
The French on the other hand just could not get the final ball right. It was either just that little bit behind their man or that bit over hit. The delivery was just not good enough. Matts Hummels nearly did the French a favor when the ball ricocheted off him and just wide of the German net in the 82nd minute. However whilst Les Bleus did get into good positions they will rue their sloppiness in dangerous areas.