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Germans starting to own this autobahn

Cohesive team hitting high gear at exact right time

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"Off his sick bed and into the headlines," was how broadcaster Peter Drury decribed the miracle of Mats Hummels.


Just four days after being left behind as his Germany teammates traveled to Porto Alegre for a round of 16 match against Algeria, the central defender was out from under the covers and heading home the winner against France in Friday's World Cup quarter-final.

One of several German players to have taken ill with a virus, Hummels' return to health proved vital as he also prevented Les Bleus from getting on the scoresheet in Rio de Janeiro.

Literally seconds before connecting with a well-placed Toni Kroos header and putting his side in front, the 25-year-old prevented the French from taking the lead when he dug out Antoine Griezmann's cross intended for the wide-open Karim Benzema.

Then, late in the first half, he denied Benzema an equalizer when he threw himself in front of the ball, and he blocked another shot by the Real Madrid marksman with 14 minutes remaining.

At the final whistle Hummels had also won three-quarters of his aerial battles on crosses and set-pieces, and his efficient passing had allowed his midfield teammates the luxury of building a possession game from the back.

But despite the heroics the Borussia Dortmund man had little to say after the 1-0 win.

"This is the latest dream that has come true, he told Der Spiegel, adding, "I hope our journey is not over yet."

It most certainly isn't.

If anything, Germany is peaking at exactly the right time -- their tactics taking shape and key players rounding into form at the perfect moment.

Incidentally, it was at least partly because of the virus that ravaged his squad manager Joachim Low moved captain Philipp Lahm out of midfield and to the right-back position against France. Lahm, not surprisingly, thrived in his natural role and repelled Les Bleus' wide attackers time and again.

Where previously the Germans had looked weak at the extremities of their defence, on Friday they dominated along the touchline.

Bastian Schweinsteiger, too, showed signs of regaining full match-fitness after some injury troubles. The 29-year-old willingly fought for the ball when out of possession and looked to drive forward when he had it at his feet.

Die Mannschaft can often settle into a lateral pattern of passing, but with Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira in midfield they finally seemed to strike a balance in centre of the park.

Next up for the three-time World Cup winners is host nation Brazil, which edged Colombia 2-1 in Fortaleza. They'll be without suspended captain Thiago Silva in Tuesday's semifinal -- another sign that the stars could be aligning for Germany at this tournament.

The Miracle of Mats Hummels might have got them to this point, but enough is going right the mere sum of their parts could well produce another pair of victories over the next eight days.

 

Brazil's Neymar irreplaceable

No player, in a man, encapsulates the Brazilian national team quite like Neymar. In the 22-year-old Brazil sees a sort of ideal -- a style, swagger and set of emotions they like to associate with their football.

But after being kneed in the back by Colombia's Juan Zuniga on Friday and suffering a fractured third vertebra, Neymar will be absent for Tuesday's semifinal against Germany in Belo Horizonte.

Now, look for Willian to line up in the Brazil attack. The Chelsea forward enjoyed a superb season at Stamford Bridge, and his defensive instincts would also serve his side well against a Germany team that will look to attack from the get-go.

But he would not be able to replace the inspiration Neymar provides simply by turning up.

Brazil have thrived on intensity and emotion at this World Cup. In fact, it's arguable their own passion and that of their supporters have combined to make them a far more formidable opponent than they'd otherwise be, man for man.

All that evaporates now Neymar is sidelined, especially with captain Thiago Silva already suspended.

Again, the sun would seem to be shining on Germany.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2014 C6

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