Mats Hummels’ header propelled them into their fourth successive World Cup semi-final and once again proved that Germany are the ultimate tournament machine. They always get it done.
It’s entrenched in a nation, whose footballing mantra would likely read: ‘we always reach the latter stages of major international competitions’. Not since 1978 have Germany failed to make the quarter-finals – a tournament which saw the finalists plucked directly from a second group phase, so even then the Germans technically tied for fifth after finishing third in their group.
Not since the 1966 final, when Helmut Haller scored after 12 minutes, have Germany lost a World Cup match after going ahead in the first quarter – and even that match was tinged with controversy after Geoff Hurst’s oft-debated strike in England’s 4-2 win.
If you had to pick one nation to defend a 1-0 lead at the quarter-final stage of the World Cup, you’d go for Germany. The defence that was alarmingly suspect against Algeria was healed by the return of Hummels – restored to the side after overcoming a bout of flu – who helped add a resilience that was absent when Per Metersacker was deployed in a high line in the last-16.
An understandably nervy start against France was calmed when Hummels glanced a precise header off the underside of the crossbar and into the net on 13 minutes. It was a moment greeted by four brutal, almost robotic, claps from his manager Joachim Loew.
From that point on, Germany steadied and rarely looked threatened by a French side who played with a baffling lack of urgency. Mathieu Valbeuna was a constant threat, acting as puppeteer and popping up unmarked, but his team-mates offered little in way of support as France struggled to probe the opposition backline.
On the few occasions that Didier Deschamps’ men breached the German defence, an inspired lunge from Hummels or outstretched glove of Manuel Neuer kept them at bay. And when the German stopper flicked away a late Karim Benzema drive, the game was up. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but Germany were through to the last four again.
Three-time champions, four-time runners-up, four-time third place in Germany's 17 World Cup campaigns to date. A whopping 64.7 per cent of tournaments resulting in a top three finish.
And yet, almost subliminally associated with their success is a failing to convert their promising positions in the last two decades. Eighteen years have passed since their last international success at Euro 96; six years more since their last triumph on the global stage at Italia 90.
With only two major international honours on offer in each four-year cycle, it’s harsh to expect any nation to consistently capture titles. But Germany are in the midst of a talent boom, a so-called golden generation that contains the ideal mix of youth and experience. And one that is burdened with the knowledge that they have always fallen at the final two hurdles.
Germany are used to reaching the latter stages and Loew will likely be regarded with disdain if the victory over France is the height of their achievements in Brazil. Semi-final and final success must follow, regardless of the opposition.
World Cup 2006: semi-final extra-time defeat to Italy; Euro 2008: final defeat to Spain; World Cup 2010: semi-final defeat to Spain; Euro 2012: semi-final defeat to Italy. The Loew reign is a catalogue of successful runs but, ultimately, missed opportunities.
The ultimate tournament machine has a fault. And if Loew can’t carry Germany over their final two barriers in Brazil, then he can expect the managerial axe to fall.
Ben Snowball - on Twitter: @BenSnowball
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