World Cup: Germany defeats France 1-0 to advance to semifinals
Next in the World Cup: Host country Brazil takes on Colombia. Tomorrow, the two remaining quarterfinal rounds will pit Europe against Latin America.
Germany shook off the flu and France to ease into the World Cup semifinals on Friday with a deserved 1-0 victory, while Brazil came to a national standstill ahead of the nervous hosts' game with carefree Colombia.
Defender Mats Hummel won a surprisingly subdued match between the two European powers with a well-steered 13th minute header from a free kick, giving Germany a remarkable fourth successive World Cup semifinal spot.
"I hope our ride isn't over yet, and I hope we'll be back here," goalscorer Hummels said, referring to the July 13 final, also held at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium.
Though perennially competitive, the Germans have not won soccer's ultimate crown since 1990, despite having a bigger talent pool since the unification of West and East.
Germany will now meet the winners of Brazil v. Colombia in the first semifinal in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.
At the Maracana on Friday, the 25-year-old Hummels brushed off a challenge from France's Raphael Varane, appearing to push him lightly, to meet the ball perfectly before wheeling away in delight after giving Germany an early lead.
'Les Bleus' looked uninspired but did have their moments, not least a stinging last-gasp shot by striker Karim Benzema that goalkeeper Manuel Neuer stopped one-handed.
"That was just an automatic reaction," said the modest Neuer.
In truth, Germany, whose team showed no ill effects of a flu virus threatening their camp in recent days, never looked in great danger of losing, and substitute Andre Schuerrle wasted two chances to secure a more flattering scoreline.
French pride and Brazilian nerves
Though losing to their old nemesis was painful, France has at least restored some pride after the embarrassment of in-fighting and a first round exit in 2010.
"We had our chances, but they had more experience than we did. They had us under control, and they controlled that one-goal lead," said France coach Didier Deschamps. "The difference wasn't that big ... but they advanced."
Later on Friday, hosts and tournament favorites Brazil face their toughest test so far, when they take on South American rivals Colombia in a quarterfinal in Fortaleza.
Despite leading striker Neymar's good form, Brazil appears to be feeling the pressure. They barely scraped past Chile – via a penalty shootout – to reach the last eight.
By contrast, Colombia, with five-goal tournament top scorer James Rodriguez spearheading their charge, have been winning joyously and convincingly, with 11 goals scored so far.
As usual when Brazil plays, the nation ground to a halt Friday as kickoff approached. Bars, homes, and fan zones were packed, leaving streets increasingly ghostly.
"We're so excited but we're also so anxious," said Carolina Dias, 23, who will host a barbecue during the match at her house in Belo Horizonte.
In the remaining two quarterfinals on Saturday, Europe squares off against Latin America.
First, Lionel Messi-led Argentina will take on 'Dar Horses' Belgium in a match that is hard to predict. Both have strong teams and have won four games out of four, but curiously every win was by a single-goal margin, and neither team has yet sparkled.
In Saturday's second game, the Netherlands are hot favorites to end the fairy-tale run of underdogs Costa Rica. Their greatest threat could be complacency given the Ticos' extraordinary campaign, including wins over Italy and Uruguay.
(Additional reporting by Erik Kirschbaum, Mark Gleeson, Caroline Stauffer in Brazil, Dmitriy Rogovitskiy in Moscow; editing by Ken Ferris)