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Jack: On a German spine and Neymar no longer carrying Brazil

Kristian Jack

7/4/2014 8:55:58 PM

Day 23 in 100 words or less

It was a day for central defenders and set-piece goals. Time to go through the motions and squeeze out a victory had passed. It was a day for the serious World Cup contenders to step up and show us what they had. Brazil and Germany, with eight World Cups between them, did just that and now meet each other in Tuesday's semifinal.

Germany 1-0 France

Twenty years ago next week Germany were almost there. 

Just after 1:30pm in the afternoon, inside the blistering heat of Giants Stadium, New Jersey, the Germans led 1-0 in a World Cup quarterfinal against Bulgaria with 15 minutes left in the match.

The reigning World Champions were about to become the first ever country to reach four straight World Cup semifinals. 

Bulgaria suddenly scored two goals in three minutes and in a New York minute the Germans were going home. The football world was stunned.

No one since has made the final four of the World Cup four times in a row.

Until today.

Fittingly, it was Germany again, playing on another hot afternoon, and up a goal on their opponents.

This time, though, there was no meltdown in the heat. 

Joachim Low's team haven't been near their best in Brazil since a blistering opening 30 minutes against Portugal but this was their best showing since that showing in Salvador 18 days ago. 

It was a statement of intent from Low's side. A statement that they can win games in such a manner. 

"You are not only the best side in the world, you are the best side I have ever seen."

That is what Low said to Xavi after Spain had defeated his German team in the semifinal four years ago.

Spain won 1-0 that day, through a headed goal, scored by a centre-back from a set-piece.

Low, then, will surely have been thinking about that when his team beat France the same way. 

Goalscorer Mats Hummels had a wonderful match. He would have been man of the match even if Germany's goal had been scored by someone else. 

Behind him, Manuel Neuer, earning his 50th cap, was also impressive again, making two outstanding saves, with one denying Karim Benzema in the final moments. 

Philipp Lahm at right back wasn't anywhere near his best but his positioning made sense for the collective balance of the side.

That's because it allowed Sami Khedira to come into midfield and he made a big difference. The Real Madrid man is clearly still not at his peak after a long layoff through injury but his penetrating runs into space makes Germany more flexible in attack and, subsequently, harder to defend against. 

With Thomas Muller still a menace in attack, either on the right or central, all of this means Low is building a side with a strong spine.

You do not need to have 11 players all at the top of their game to win a World Cup. This is good news for Mesut Ozil and whoever plays alongside him and Muller. 

Ozil is clearly struggling inside this system but with other players excelling it is not as vital. Low's mind will be full of exceptional memories of Ozil performing brilliantly at the last two major tournaments. He remains good at spatial awareness and in possession when given outlets close by. However, he is far from at his best and his reputation as a player who needs a lot of love shows he is incredibly low on confidence. 

He is, however, like all of his teammates, just two wins away from being a world champion. 

France go home with their heads held high and will be a force on home soil at Euro 2016. The Champions League has been a wonderful stage for many to show they can compete at a high level, while Ligue 1 continues to produce some sensational young players not even seen in Brazil.

For those who were in Brazil, this tournament, unlike the past two, will have provided them a lot of good lessons in cohesion both on and off the field. Didier Deschamps deserves a lot of credit for turning Les Bleus into a team their nation loves once again, just nine months after many couldn't stand them anymore. 

Brazil 2-1 Colombia

Where do we start?

Here is what we DO know:

Here is what we do NOT know:

Man of the day

Nominees

David Luiz – a sensational free kick gave Brazil the moment of the World Cup so far.

Thiago Silva – opened the scoring with a key early goal and was magnificent in defence throughout.

James Rodriguez – His name is James. James Rodriguez. No one should ever mispronounce his name ever again. A global star was born in Brazil.

Manuel Neuer – the German goalkeeper was, once again, commanding in goal on the big occasion. Got his 50th cap against France and another 50 will be on their way.

Mats Hummels – Germany needed a defensive hero very badly and the Borussia Dortmund man returned from the flu to win the game for Joachim Low's side.

The winner…

David Luiz – He may not have been the best player on the field but it was very special for a Brazilian to score a 35 yard free kick with the SIDE of his foot in such a monumental match.

What comes next?

Argentina vs Belgium (12pm/9am) and Netherlands vs Costa Rica (4pm/1pm)

Burning question for tomorrow

Argentina have gone through this World Cup with one great player and ten average ones. Can one player step up from average to good to help Lionel Messi and dispose of Belgium?

Key stat of day 23

Mats Hummels scored the 30th headed goal at the World Cup.