BRASILIA, Brazil – What’s the cure for the common cold?
Germany will go with a victory in the World Cup quarterfinals. Because despite having seven players laid low by flu-like symptoms, it rolled over France, 1-0, Friday in Rio de Janeiro.
German Coach Joachim Loew said a third of his squad came into the game with sore throats and high temperatures – among them star striker Thomas Mueller. Another, midfielder Christoph Kramer, missed the team’s last training session with chills.
They likely felt better after Germany became the first team to reach the semifinals in four consecutive World Cups by winning a physical game that had few real scoring opportunities, especially in the first half.
And those that did arise were turned back by German keeper Manuel Neuer, who made a huge one-handed stop on French sniper Karim Benzema deep in stoppage time, or France’s Hugo Lloris, who denied Andre Schuerrle with a foot to keep it a one-goal game in the final 10 minutes of regulation.
In two cases point-blank shots went off the face of a defender, one for France and the other for Germany.
Germany got the only scoring opportunity it needed in the 13th minute and defender Mats Hummels, who missed the round-of-16 win over Algeria with a fever, made it count. The play started with Toni Kross bending a long free kick to the front of the goal for Hummels who, changing hard from the edge of the penalty area, stuck a forearm in the chest of French defender Raphael Varane to create some space, then redirected the ball off the bottom of the crossbar with a header.
But Friday’s historic win is just the prelude to the real work for the Germans.
First they must get well, then they have to refocus since reaching the World Cup semifinals isn’t really an achievement for a country which has done so 10 times in the last 13 tournaments. Once it has gotten there, though, its luck seems to change since Germany has reached the final just once since 1990, when it won its last World Cup.
The 24-year title drought that followed that victory-- Germany’s longest since World War II -- has led to enormous pressure on both Loew and his players, whose every move has been debated and criticized at home.
Germany still has one hurdle to clear before it gets a chance at ending that dry spell. That comes next week when it faces the winner of Friday’s late quarterfinal between Brazil and Colombia in the semifinals.
For France, meanwhile, Friday’s loss mars what has been an otherwise successful World Cup. Four years ago in South Africa, France went out in the first round without winning a game. But that wasn’t the most embarrassing thing about its performance.
There was also a player mutiny against Coach Raymond Domenech that led to the suspension of the entire 23-man roster, the resignation of French federation head Jean-Pierre Escalettes and a meeting between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and team captain Thierry Henry.
For this tournament Didier Deschamps, a World Cup champion as a player, made character a determining factor in who made his team. And the French proved so tight that even after losing midfielder Franck Ribery, its best player, to injury it won its group and advanced to the quarterfinals unbeaten.