RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – As appetizers go, it was more of a dessert: a World Cup quarterfinal at fabled Maracana between two European powerhouses featuring 22 starting players who play club soccer in England, Spain, France, Italy or Germany.
For much of the world, it was a heavyweight fight contested in one of the sport’s greatest venues.
Here, of course, it was a distinct undercard. Brazil defeated Colombia 2-1 later Friday in a match so big it prompted the Colombian government to declare a national holiday.
Yet even without top billing, Germany will not mind. The Germans defeated France 1-0 to advance to a record fourth straight semifinal. Mats Hummels scored in the 13th minute of a tense, grinding game that left several French players frustrated and in tears at the final whistle.
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France, which was one of the strongest teams during the group stage, will head home, while Germany, which had seven players bothered by flulike symptoms entering the match, is set to face Brazil in a semifinal Tuesday in Belo Horizonte.
“It was certainly not a walk in the park, and I think we solved it rather well,” Hummels said. “We have the passion, and I think the passion should not be reduced — it must be intensified in every coming match.”
That passion, alas, was not on display from either team during the match, which was not played at the high-octane pace that has been so commonplace in this tournament. France’s coach, Didier Deschamps, said that was probably because of the weather, with the midday sun beating down.
Germany’s coach, Joachim Loew, agreed, adding he was pleased the semifinal and final would both be played in the late afternoon when the sun would be going down.
“It is certainly not easy for us Europeans to start playing at 1 o’clock,” he said. “You can hardly breathe; you can hardly move. Europeans are not used to that.”
The Germans handled the conditions better, and Loew’s tactical decisions paid off as well. The most notable switch was Loew’s decision to shift Philipp Lahm, the captain, to right back from midfield. Loew said he was concerned about France’s stoutness in the center of the field, with Yohan Cabaye, a sturdy midfielder, clogging things up.
By having Lahm on the outside, Loew said, the German attack could have better flow.
“We were trying to really push, constantly push,” Loew said. “We were always stepping on the opponent’s toes from back to front.”
In Brazil, the Germans are a popular pick to break a hex: No team from Europe has won a World Cup in the Americas. Germany won its group — albeit with some inconsistent play — but was then deemed vulnerable after struggling in the round of 16 against Algeria as the underdogs took the match into extra time.
The French were seen as an enigma after a disastrous 2010 World Cup in which they did not win a match and endured a player revolt. France then nearly failed to qualify for this year’s tournament, overcoming a two-goal deficit in a two-game series with Ukraine for one of Europe’s final spots.
Since that rally, Deschamps said there was a noticeable surge from his players, and Les Bleus showed that during the group stage when they scored eight goals.
In the quarterfinal, though, their finishing in the attacking end of the field was lacking from the start. France was a bit better in the second half but continued to struggle to finish its movements.
• In a quarterfinal Saturday in Brasilia, perhaps the world’s best player — Lionel Messi of Argentina — will challenge one of the best goalkeepers, Thibaut Courtois of Belgium. They know each other well from Spanish-league matches.
Courtois has kept Messi scoreless the last seven times his Atletico Madrid team faced FC Barcelona. If he can do it again, Belgium might reach the semifinals for the first time since 1986 — when it was eliminated by Argentina.
Messi has scored four of Argentina’s seven goals in the tournament and set up two of the others.
• In Saturday’s other quarterfinal, in Salvador, the Netherlands — which had a tournament-leading 12 goals through the round of 16 — will face a Costa Rica team that has allowed two goals in four matches.