Germany captain Philipp Lahm is desperate to avoid his side becoming the eternal third-place team as they plot how to beat Brazil in the World Cup semi-final.
While celebrating beating France 1-0 in Friday’s quarter-final, Lahm knows a defeat to the hosts on Tuesday in Belo Horizonte would condemn him to a third straight appearance in the third place play-off.
“I really do not need that, that’s something I want to rule out,” joked Lahm, who was on losing teams in semi-finals at the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals.
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“We definitely want more, that wasn’t our last appearance in Rio.” Man-of-the-match Mats Hummels’ 13th-minute header sealed victory over France. Germany have now reached the semi-finals at 13 of the 20 World Cup finals and last failed to reach the last four at France ‘98.
German coach Joachim Loew has reached the semis of all four major tournaments during his eight-year reign and the Germans are eager to return to Rio’s Maracana Stadium for the final on July 13.
First they must beat Brazil, formidable even without star striker Neymar, who suffered a fractured vertebrae in their quarter-final win over Colombia, and suspended captain Thiago Silva.
And Loew has urged his players “to take the next step” in their bid to end a 24-year wait for a fourth World Cup title by knocking-out Brazil.
Having ground out a 2-0 extra-time win over Algeria with an unconvincing display in the last 16, Germany raised their game to see off Didier Deschamps’ France.
“We’ll see how things go now, only top teams reach the semi-finals, but we have now won 28 of our last 31 competitive matches,” said Germany’s head coach.
“It needs a special performance to permanently be in the last four, but now we are trying to take the next step. The team is established, stable and can handle a game, just as they did against Algeria.
The team is improving from game to game, they are fully focused and are working very hard.”
On the eve of the last-eight match, seven of the German squad had suffered from mild flu. But Loew said illness was not a factor in his defensive reshuffle as Per Mertesacker sat out the France win while Lahm was moved to right-back.
“It was a tactical decision to play (centre-backs) Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, because (Karim) Benzema, (Mathieu) Valbuena and (Antoine) Griezmann are very fast,” said Loew.
A fourth World Cup title for Germany will elevate the 54-year-old Loew to the exclusive status enjoyed by Franz Beckenbauer (1990), Helmut Schoen (1974) and Sepp Herberger (1954) who also coached the football-mad nation to world titles.
Loew has five survivors in his squad from the 2006 World Cup in Germany and 10 of the side who finished third at South Africa 2010.
But he says maintaining consistent standards has been the key to Germany’s success in Brazil, even after injury deprived him of winger Marco Reus before leaving Germany.
“The team has changed over last few years and there aren’t many survivors from 2006 and 2010, but it’s good to have a few changes, not just the same players who have been at the top level for the last eight to ten years,” said Loew.
“We were without Reus, but players like Hummels have come in and done very well. We have been working on consistency, invested a lot and we have excellent players,” he said.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said Germany’s improved defence was the key to his side’s 1-0 win over France.
But Neuer himself played a huge part in the victory with an outstanding display, on what was his 50th appearance for his country, to repeatedly thwart the French attack, spear-headed by Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema.
The Bayern Munich goalkeeper said his back four had raised their game significantly since Monday’s below-par display.
“Unlike against Algeria, Friday we had a game where we couldn’t lose, the defence did well and was really compact,” said Neuer, who denied Benzema with a key save in the dying stages.
Defender Per Mertesacker said coach Joachim Loew made the right decision to leave him on the bench on Friday for the first time at the World Cup in Brazil, adding he was happy to be the “water boy and cheerleader” if it helped.
“The coach made all the right decisions and you can’t have a more fortunate hand than he did,” Mertesacker said of Loew’s three changes to the lineup — including putting him on the bench despite his being near flawless in their first four matches.
“He carries the overall responsibility and everyone on the team has a job to do. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m the water boy or the cheerleader,” added Mertesacker, who carried water bottles to teammates during a break late in the match.