Germany advanced to the semifinal at the World Cup for the fourth tournament in a row. After disappointment in the past, however, the squad is hoping that this year can end in a first-place finish.
Despite inconsistency, the Germans have gotten out to a good start in the first few matches. They were then able to earn an impressive 1-0 win over France in the quarterfinals thanks to an early goal by Mats Hummels.
Although the match was hardly a classic, it was a strong performance from a team that was expecting to win and advance. This will be huge as the squad looks to keep this momentum going forward.
Before the contest started, there were plenty of questions about Germany's ability to step up against a talented opponent. Manager Joachim Low addressed this concern, via Reuters (h/t ABC):
We have not yet delivered our very best performance. We are going against a class team from France ... who have high motivations.
France was very stable so far. Very, very good, but I think it is a game of equals and we are into it with all the self confidence that we have.
After this strong win, the team's confidence is going to be as high as ever. The extra-time win over Algeria might have created doubts, but this victory helps the players remember how dominant they had been in the past.
If they can keep a dynamic attack from France off the scoresheet, they can clearly do the same against Brazil or Colombia in the next round.
Of course, it will take more than just mental strength to continuing winning this summer. It will take talent all over the pitch.
The good news is that this was on full display against France. It all started with a strong performance from the midfield, as noted by Tancredi Palmeri of beIN Sports:
The main difference so far is made by German midfield: moving together, backing the attack, being compact. Opposite of French one— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) July 4, 2014
A lot of credit for this has to go to the manager, who decided to put captain Philipp Lahm back at his natural position at right back, instead of defensive mid where he spent the past few games. This certainly excited people when the lineup was released, like ESPN's Alexi Lalas:
Lahm at right back! Lahm at right back!— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) July 4, 2014
As Squawka Football showed, this paid off throughout the first half:
Sami Khedira, Bastain Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos then combined to make a midfield that was capable of controlling possession and preventing France from getting too many legitimate opportunities. Although they were all clearly winded near the end of the match, this is by far the best lineup Germany has to offer.
Going forward, it seems like a no-brainer for Low to put this trio out there in the middle of the field to beat out any opponent left in the competition.
How will Germany finish at the World Cup?
While the midfield, defense and goalkeeping were solid, the big question mark after this match is the play of the attack. The only goal came from Hammels, a centre-back who made his way forward on a set piece.
Things were not much better against Algeria when there were no goals through the 90 minutes of regulation.
Thomas Muller remains the go-to option, but he has slowed down his production in the past few matches. While he was active against France, he finished with only a single shot and it did not go on net.
Still, the problem is that he is not getting much help. Mario Gotze has been invisible in this tournament while Miroslav Klose is still looking for his record-breaking 16th World Cup goal.
Gotze has been arguably the biggest disappointment for the squad, as noted by Raphael Honigstein of ESPN FC after the Algeria match:
The 22-year-old was so poor before his substitution at the end of the first half that none of the waiting reporters in the Estadio Beira-Porto mixed zone felt moved to ask him any questions. They effectively treated him like an unused sub, and why not? His impact had been comparable.
None of the offensive-minded players, including Mesut Ozil, did much against France. Against other opponents, Germany will have to do a better job keeping the pressure on after taking an early lead.
Despite the negatives, the group has shown plenty of ability to this point. With a repeat performance in the midfield, some key plays from Hummels and Manuel Neuer and an improved showing by the forwards, Germany should be able to win the World Cup.
At the very least, there should be a lot more confidence after the latest win than there was coming into the day.
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