Joachim Loew is said to have provided the tactical nous to the team that Juergen Klinsmann helmed to the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup. No one had given Germany a chance then. Those manning the immigration points at the Munich airport said it would be a surprise if Germany got out of the group. A young team with a coach who had little or no experience was not expected to go far even if they came from a country with as proud a history in football as Germany.
Germany went to the semi-finals there, winning hearts on the way in a World Cup themed a time to make friends. As they did in South Africa and now in Brazil. It was in 2006 that young players such as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm showed they had a good future and Miroslav Klose a good present. A long, long present as it turned out.
The first quarter-final was also about how Loew got his tactics right. By pulling Philipp Lahm back into the defence, Loew managed, in one stroke, to add attacking width and defensive solidity. He knew it would be difficult to get at France down the middle and so Germany decided to go around as it were.
Also with Lahm policing the right flank, Antoine Griezmann’s speed was checked. With Thomas Mueller being used wide and Klose as a targetman, France’s defenders were kept busy and couldn’t go on the overlap as much as they would have liked. Loew’s preference for playing a high line is well known and with the midfielders staying close, France were suffocated in the middle. The runs between the lines that were expected didn’t come. Slowly but surely, Germany stifled France in the creative zone. France just didn’t have an answer to this tactical masterstroke.
Schweinsteiger sat in front of the back line leaving the creative operations to Mesut Oezil, Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller. Occasionally Sami Khedira too joined in. Mueller and Oezil stretched the France defence and more importantly kept the wingbacks from overlapping. Blaise Matuidi was expected to play a crucial role in this match but was reined in by the German midfield. Ditto Paul Pogba though he did find Karim Benzema once with a superb 40-yard pass.
France had started briskly forcing a couple of early chances and it seemed that they would continue at the Maracana from where they had left off. Then, Kroos’ free-kick went in through Matt Hummels’ header, the central defender’s return adding solidity to the backline that had looked sluggish against Algeria. Germany didn’t look back from there. Andre Schuerrle and Kroos could have made it an embarrassing scoreline when seeking the equaliser, France were repeatedly getting caught on the break.
This France team has managed a turnaround that was stunning, winning the return-leg of the qualifying playoff against Ukraine on November 19 last year. Deschamps will continue to build on this and maybe they will be a force in the 2016 Euros. Germany’s time it seems is now. Brazil have a fight on their hands. They will need every bit of the lung-power they can get from the crowd in the semi-finals. For Germany getting to the semi-final has become normal service. What better place to improve than in the country that seems to weave its life around football.