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Germany 1 France 0: Consistency the key to mastery of tournament football

THE last four World Cups have been staged in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America.

Thomas Mueller congratulates Germany defender  Mats Hummels on his decisive goal. Picture: Marcus Brandt/EPA
Thomas Mueller congratulates Germany defender Mats Hummels on his decisive goal. Picture: Marcus Brandt/EPA

Germany have reached at least the semi-finals in each of them. Travel and geography are no impediments to this mighty football nation. There wasn't too much to savour about their victory over France in a dour letdown of a quarter-final in Rio de Janeiro last night - although Mats Hummels and Manuel Neuer were wonderful - but Germany's consistency remains as much a marvel as it is a cliché. Whisper it, but it's only 64 days until Scotland must take on this team in a Euro 2016 qualifier in Dortmund. Germany could have lifted their fourth World Cup by then.

They eased into Brazil 2014's first semi-final and will play in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday. They were supposed to face an almighty challenge from the French in a hard-to-call tie but that never materialised. France were tame, flat and undeserving of any sympathy for their elimination. They were a major disappointment and reacted without urgency to going behind to the only goal of the game after 13 minutes. It was fitting that it was scored by Hummels. Over the 90 minutes, it was the big Borussia Dortmund man who made the crucial blocks, tackles and interceptions which frustrated any French attacks. He was a colossus. At the goal he bullied France, too. When Toni Kroos flung a free kick into the penalty area, Hummels was too strong and too clever for Raphael Varane, holding off the young Real Madrid defender and enabling himself to connect with a firm header inside the back post.

Germany's great triumph was in looking invulnerable when they ought to have been at real risk of being knocked out. A flu virus had contaminated their players, supposedly affecting seven of the squad. There can be no higher praise than simply stating that they did not let it show. Taking on the French in the lunchtime heat of Rio asked major questions of them but instead it was Didier Deschamps' men who looked sluggish and out-of-sorts. The usually excellent Paul Pogba was quiet in midfield. Antoine Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena did not do nearly enough to hurt full-backs Philipp Lahm and Benedikt Howedes. Karim Benzema, France's great hope, was unconvincing and never had the better of Hummels.

Deschamps was slow to make changes which might have rejuvenated their apathetic display. They should kick themselves for surrendering so meekly; their media will certainly kick them.

France have won a World Cup more recently than Germany but the latter bow to no-one when it comes to expertise in tournament play. In their five games they have delivered victories over Portugal, USA, Algeria and now the French, and a draw with Ghana. They were not impressive against Algeria and nor can manager Joachim Loew feel especially satisfied by how they played in the quarter-final. Thomas Mueller was subdued and Mesut Oezil and Toni Kroos rarely hurt the French. Miroslav Klose didn't have a sniff of goal and was substituted, ending, for the time being, his opportunity to go ahead of Ronaldo as all-time highest World Cup scorer.

Other than the Hummels goal, each team had just one outstanding chance each. When Oezil broke down the left in the second-half, his low cut back was fluffed by both Mueller and Andre Schuerrle, whose low shot at the goalkeeper was hopeless. Deep in stoppage time France's one great opening came and went when Benzema worked his way into space but fired a rising shot which Neuer blocked with a one-handed save.

Neuer made other stops. None of them were outstanding, but each of them sapped more life out of the French. He looked immovable and unbeatable, tall, broad and commanding. When crosses were flung into his box he claimed them with total authority. France could have played until sunset without getting the better of Germany's great centre-half and goalkeeper.

If they are to win the cup, they will have to overcome two stronger challenges. But the flu bug will have been eradicated from their camp by then and they have strength in depth. Mario Goetze played only the final seven minutes as a substitute and Schurrle remained on the bench until 21 minutes from the end. Per Mertesacker, who hadn't looked too clever against Algeria's quick counter-attacking, was dropped altogether. Lahm was returned from midfield to full-back, his best position. Sami Khedira came into central midfield. When Griezmann threatened to break at one point in the second half, Khedira clipped him for a cynical foul. It earned a booking but snuffed out the danger.

Little moments like that - not admirable in isolation but part of a commendable broader expertise in the business of winning - keep the Germans marching on. They are modern masters of tournament play.

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