Germany edge France in clash of titans
Day 20 opened with a truly mouth-watering clash; footballing powerhouses Germany and France met in a quarter-final match-up that would have been worthy of being a World Cup final.
France started with a lethal front three of Griezmann, Benzema and Valbuena, targeting Germany’s slow fullbacks (two centrehalves playing out of postion) with pace on the flanks.
But Joachim Löwe finally gave in to the demands of the German public, moving captain Phillip Lahm back to rightback, and bringing Sami Khedira into midfield instead.
The change of personnel worked wonders for a Germany side that had lately been lacking in efficiency and cohesiveness.
They took an early lead when towering centreback Mats Hummels flicked a header, assisted by a free kick from Toni Kroos, in off the underside of the bar, leaving the man marking him, France’s Raphael Varane, sprawled out on the floor.
France were almost level 35 minutes in, but Manuel Neuer added another outstanding save to his highlight reel, this one a point-blank one-armed parry to deny Valbuena from drawing level.
Hummels’ goal was the only one of the half, and Germany went into the break with a 1-0 lead.
France stepped up their game in the second half, testing Manuel Neuer on a few more occasions. Striker Loic Remy was subbed on with 10 minutes to go – France were going for this.
But Germany remained resolute, holding the French at bay and counter-attacking with speed. Many times Germany threatened to double their lead on the break, but a poor final ball or final touch prevented them from doing so.
Manuel Neuer threw up an arm to deny Karim Benzema with seconds left, and it sealed the 1-0 victory for Germany, sending them into the semifinals for a record fourth time in a row.
It was an improved showing from Germany, who struggled against Algeria, but you the feeling is that they can still move up a gear or two. France will go home disappointed, but after their dreadful showing at World Cup 2010, they can hold their heads high.
Germany play the winner of the day’s later game between hosts Brazil and the brilliant Colombia – what a semifinal match-up.
While nothing is certain in football, many people would bet their house that the winner of the World Cup will emerge from that tantalizing semifinal game.
Brave Colombia fall short at Brazil hurdle
The second game of the day featured the best team of the World Cup so far – and no, that’s not Brazil.
The Brazilians were indeed playing, and Neymar and co. would expect to be center stage as they attempted to take one step closer to their ultimate goal.
But it was their opponents, Colombia, who had so far taken the World Cup by storm. Colombia, led by Monaco’s wonderkid James Rodriguez, have been the most attractive team to watch this summer, bar none. The Colombians have been fantastic in their approach, defeating team after team with their silky, smooth football.
It was Brazil, however, drew first blood.
Only seven minutes into the match, a Neymar corner evaded everybody and fell to a wide-open Thiago Silva at the back post. The captain duly obliged, diverting the ball into the open net and sending the stadium into an explosion of happiness.
Silva’s goal set things up perfectly for Brazil, who have shown the tendency to grow more and more nervous if the match is progressing without them on top. And with it, Brazil put in their most encouraging half of football of the World Cup so far.
The half time whistle brought the game to a close with a slim Brazilian lead, but moreso than the result, the performance was looking very good.
The second half went about in much the same way – both teams looked great on the ball, but Brazil in particular looked rapid on the counter.
With just over 20 minutes left to go, David Luiz scored a sublime free kick to all but seal the Brazilian victory. The free kick, from some distant out, flew over the Colombian wall and dipped spectacularly, flying past David Ospina and into the back of the net.
There only seemed to be one winner from that point on; the Brazilians were looking (for the first time in the tournament) extremely confident, and Colombia’s dream looked to be at an end.
But as so many times before, Colombia’s hero, James Rodriguez, stepped up to the plate.
Rodriguez played a fantastic ball in to teammate Carlos Bacca, and when Julio Cesar brought the Colombian down, it was left to James to convert the penalty. Cool as ever, the playmaker put the ball into the net with 10 minutes to go (his sixth of the tournament) and gave his country a glimmer of hope.
The waves of Colombian attacks became relentless – they piled forward, trying desperately to get one more goal to force extra time.
Unfortunately, James’ penalty proved only to be a consolation, and the final whistle sounded, sending Brazil through to the semifinals.
Colombia exit after a fantastic World Cup in which they won over neutral fans all over the world. James leaves as the tournament’s top goal scorer, and his country will undoubtedly be back next time around. Watch out for them – with Falcao back spearheading the attack and an older, wiser Rodriguez, they will be back better than ever.
Despite the late scare, this was Brazil’s best performance of the tournament. Perhaps, finally, they are hitting form. And it couldn’t come at a better time.
With Germany next up in the semifinals, the Brazilians will have their hardest test of the tournament so far. They should treat the match like a World Cup final – because it very well could be. Whoever progresses from that incredible encounter should go on to claim the entire thing.
Brazil are just two games from the ultimate glory: will they write history, or will they crumble under the pressure?