In the end, Germany and Brazil progressed to meet each other in the semi-finals on Tuesday, but Friday's quarter-finals were so much more complex than that.
The day's first game—fortunately—was just a warm-up, an aperitif for what was to come. In a dry, often uninspiring contest in Rio de Janeiro, Germany beat France, riding an early goal from central defender Mats Hummels to eventual triumph.
In its way, the goal was an indication of what it takes to succeed at this stage of a World Cup. Superior skill or talent is not necessarily enough—it takes experience, guile and the absence of mistakes too.
It was a foolish mistake, one born out of inexperience, that saw Paul Pogba give away a cheap free-kick for an unnecessary foul on Toni Kroos in midfield. From there, Hummels used his strength to push away his marker, Raphael Varane, and met a perfectly weighted free-kick with just the right contact to send it into the net, giving Germany an early advantage after France had started the game stronger.
From there, Joachim Low's side sat back and closed the spaces in midfield, daring France to produce an equaliser. They were unable to—hardly raising the heartbeat as they floundered and flustered to a final whistle that deservedly brought down the curtain on their participation in this tournament.
They could have won this game. That they did not speaks to their lack of experience and their lack of requisite organisation and application.
In its way, that game served as a precursor to the game to come later that evening. Brazil vs. Colombia was also changed by an early goal, as Colombia responded marginally too late to muster up a memorable comeback.
Thiago Silva needed just seven minutes to poke Brazil ahead, as they fended off a somewhat nervy, disjointed Colombia side (through methods both fair and foul) for the first half. Silva's defensive partner, David Luiz, then scored from a free-kick in the second half—sparking life into a game that some might have thought was already over.
Colombia pushed forward with renewed expression, playing in an attacking style that better resembled their play for much of this summer in Brazil. They got one back, thanks to James Rodriguez's nerveless penalty, but were unable to find an equaliser as Brazil held on for a victory they barely, just barely deserved.
The cost, however, might be prohibitive. Silva is banned for the semi-final against Germany after picking up a second yellow card, while Neymar was stretchered off at the end of the match with a back injury after another aggressive challenge.
It was an ironic twist in the narrative: Brazil, who had spent so much of the previous 87 minutes kicking their opponents' best player (Rodriguez) out of the game, losing their attacking dynamo to one rough challenge too many.
If Brazil are without their two talismen for the semi-finals, it could make their task much tougher. Germany, as they also proved on Friday, will not be as easy to bully.
Results in brief - Day 23
Germany 1-0 France
Brazil 2-1 Colombia
(Silva, Luiz; Rodriguez)
Germany will face Brazil in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday, July 8.
1. Notes from Day 23
Waiting proves costly... What exactly was Didier Deschamps thinking for much of the second half against Germany? The France coach sat and watched until well past the hour mark before making a much-needed change to his side...and then bringing on one centre-back (Laurent Koscielny) for another (Mamadou Sakho).
After that he finally made an attacking move—Loic Remy for Yohan Cabaye—but France never really looked like getting the equaliser they needed. Might a more proactive manager have been more effective?
Cuadrado fails to turn up... For all the attention James Rodriguez has earned during this World Cup, arguably Juan Cuadrado had been every bit as good—just without the same iconic goal for media types to salivate over.
On Friday, with Rodriguez closely marked, Cuadrado should have had the chance to impose himself on the match, but instead he cut a timid, awkward figure with his substitution long before the final whistle—a fitting reflection of a woeful display. The winger will have regrets as he returns home.
Experience the key quality... In both of Friday's games, the teams with more experience of this sort of high-pressure environment progressed, though, without necessarily showing themselves to be the better side on the day. If experience is a key attribute, it certainly bodes well for the Netherlands and Argentina on Saturday.
2. Quote of the Day
3. Tweet of the Day
4. Goal of the Day
Luiz may end up dining out on this goal for many years to come—and not without good reason.
5. A good day for...
Mats Hummels. The defender was the match-winner against France, but he was also arguably the man of the match—two recognitions that are not necessarily one and the same. As a player for Borussia Dortmund (one of the few to have gone from Bayern Munich to the Westfalenstadion, rather than the other way), Hummels has perhaps been overlooked as one of the best central defenders in the world.
With this display, he showed why that should not be the case.
6. A bad day for...
Carlos Velasco. When people look back and reflect on Brazil's game against Colombia, they may well recall the questionable officiating of the Spanish referee in the middle of it all. If Neymar is badly injured and goes on to miss the remainder of the tournament, even the Brazilians, whose side he seemed to favour, may not look back on his refereeing with much fondness.
7. Tomorrow's schedule
Argentina vs. Belgium (5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET)
The tie of the day, with an interesting contrast at its heart. Argentina are a team built to accentuate the gifts of one sublime individual, whereas Belgium have a number of great individuals still trying to find the right formula as a team. Argentina looked average against Switzerland for long periods—but do Belgium have the right recipe to overcome them?
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica (9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET)
After the fairy tale ended so abruptly for Colombia on Friday, can Costa Rica plot a different path 24 hours later? The Central Americans were not expected to get this far, but they have shown more team spirit and unity than most of the sides we have seen. The Dutch are well-coached and well-organised, however, and will surely expect to move on to the semi-finals.
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