RIO DE JANEIRO
Joachim Loew’s decision to reshuffle his lineup and return captain Philipp Lahm to right back paid off immediately Friday, galvanizing the defense and earning Germany a place in the semifinals of the World Cup.
Germany’s 1-0 win over France in the quarterfinal at Maracana Stadium was not particularly entertaining but at least coach Loew’s team didn’t repeat the slapstick mistakes of its 2-1 victory over Algeria at the start of the knockout round.
Loew took Lahm out of the midfield and returned him to his favorite position as right back. The coach dropped center back Per Mertesacker and replaced him with Mats Hummels, who was healthy again after flu. And Germany’s back four looked solid again, with Hummels not only scoring the winning goal but making some key defensive interventions.
“The team was not surprised by the changes,” Loew said. “We need all the players and when I have the feeling that I have to give the team a push, I do it. The team is improving from match to match.”
Germany’s midfield, meanwhile, had the upper hand for most of the match, as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira helped the defense out and intercepted many France attacks.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who saved Germany from an embarrassing second-round exit against Algeria, again proved to be a big last obstacle for the attacking team — his one-handed save from Karim Benzema in stoppage time was France’s last chance to force extra time.
“We played like a team again. Overall it was a good performance from us,” Lahm said. “It wasn’t easy today, it was brutally hot. We wanted to put some pressure on the right with me and Thomas (Mueller).”
“We should have scored a second. Both teams played a good tactical match. Whether I play as right back again will depend from game to game and opponent to opponent,” Lahm said.
France coach Didier Deschamps said he was slightly surprised to see Lahm play as right back.
“Even though that’s his natural position, he likes to play in midfield. Obviously that changed the structure of their defense, because he likes to attack more than (Jerome) Boateng does. Aside from the player he is, he is also the captain so obviously he has a lot of importance in the German side.
Hummels, who headed in a free kick from Toni Kroos in the 13th minute, prevented a French equalizer in the 34th when he foiled Benzema’s attempt to pounce on a rebound and fire into the net from close range.
The Borussia Dortmund defender also made several clearances late in the match, despite fatigue.
“I was lucky enough to be in the right position,” Hummels said of his goal. “I guess we’re playing the kind of football which will give us a chance to win. You can’t always score two more goals than your opponent in a World Cup and we defended well today.”
Loew changed his formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-3-2-1 system with Miroslav Klose as the one true striker. Klose, however, had an indifferent game without a shot at goal and was replaced in the second half.
Klose needs one goal to become the top scorer in World Cup history. He shares the record of 15 goals with Brazil’s retired star Ronaldo.