France play host to Germany on Wednesday in what is one of the most eagerly anticipated friendly matches of the current international break.
The two sides are familiar with one another, having met last February at the Weserstadion in Bremen. That fixture the visitors, coached by Laurent Blanc, won 2-1. The score suggests a close game, but the French were ahead from the 21st minute onward, and Germany only scored their goal in injury time.
Things are different now, however, with Didier Deschamps having taken the helm as France coach and many players in both teams having developed. Right now, France and Germany are two of the strongest national teams in the world. And as such, Wednesday's match will be not just a friendly, but an opportunity for the two sides to gauge their quality as they prepare for the 2014 World Cup.
There will be several key battles to keep an eye on during Wednesday's match, as familiar foes and club teammates square off. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a full analysis of the important head-to-head clashes to follow.
Bayern Munich teammates Franck Ribery and Philipp Lahm go head-to-head on the wing on Wednesday in perhaps the most exciting potentially most decisive matchup in France vs Germany. The two know one another very well, having played not only for the same team, but having worked together on Bayern's left flank for many years.
Ribery is the main source of inspiration in attack for both his club and his country, and especially in the last two seasons under Jupp Heynckes has played at a consistently high level. He assisted the equalizer in France's 1-1 draw with Spain in October and in three World Cup qualifiers already has three assists and a goal to his name. He will again be the danger man for France in the Germany fixture.
Lahm will make Ribery's life as difficult as possible as he leads Germany into action in France. The defender is captain of both club and country and has held his own against elite attackers in his day, including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The fact that he knows Ribery on a personal level will give him an advantage, although with this in mind, the Frenchman just might have a few new tricks up his sleeve.
Karim Benzema and Mats Hummels met once before this season, in the Champions League group stage. The Dortmund and Germany center-back decidedly got the better of the Real Madrid and France striker, who was largely ineffective and didn't take a single shot before his substitution in the 73rd minute.
Dortmund won the game 2-1 and went on to win their group ahead of Real. On Wednesday Benzema has his chance to level the personal score with Hummels, who will be charged with the task of marking and tracking him. The attacker has scored 15 goals for France in his career, but his abilities by far exceed his modest productivity on the international stage.
Benzema is fast and has great ball skills, and only with utmost care and unwavering attention will Hummels be able to keep him at bay. To his credit, the Germany defender is one of the best center-backs in the world and can hold his own against any striker. The head-to-head matchup between Benzema and Hummels promises to be a highly entertaining clash and could decide the game.
Ever since he first came into his own as a full-time starter in Joachim Loew's attack, Mesut Ozil has been a brilliant, irreplaceable force in the German national team. The Real Madrid man is a playmaking machine for the Mannschaft, and in four World Cup qualifiers earlier this season scored five goals (more than any other player in Europe) and added an assist.
Ozil is a great player, but it is possible to keep him quiet. And those teams that have succeeded in minimizing his contributions have been rather successful against Germany. Consider, for example, Italy and Portugal at Euro 2012. Ozil struggled to make his mark in both matches, and die Mannschaft only narrowly edged the Portuguese following a 72nd minute goal from Mario Gomez, while in the latter instance Ozil was rendered ineffective (but for a penalty conversion at the death) as Germany were eliminated.
Blaise Matuidi will be charged with the task of keeping the ball away from Ozil, as well as helping aid in France's build-up. It's no easy task, but the PSG man has the attributes to make Ozil's day very frustrating—if, that is, he can stay with the Germany playmaker. If Benzema vs. Hummels is a clash of the titans, Matuidi vs. Ozil is a game of cat and mouse.
Whenever big international teams meet, one of the biggest head-to-head battles is between their coaches. This Wednesday will be an interesting one, as the rather green (at least on the international stage) Didier Deschamps plays tactical chess with the extremely experienced Joachim Loew.
The 44-year-old Deschamps has been in the coaching business since 2001, but only took on the role of France coach after Euro 2012. His record stands at three wins, two draws and a loss in six matches. However, he did manage to coach Les Bleus to a draw with Spain last fall, a huge result for the trainer and his team.
Joachim Loew, on the other hand, has coached Germany since 2006. Die Mannschaft have won 60 of the 89 matches played under his tenure, and although they have not won any major titles during this time, the DFB team has progressed tremendously in terms of quality of play.
Deschamps had success against Spain and faces another very difficult test in Germany. If France win, it will affirm the team's class and that Deschamps is the right man for the job. Loew, meanwhile, has the opportunity to gauge his team's recovery following losses to Italy and Argentina and draws with the Netherlands and Sweden.
At age 34, and with 24 caps to go, the Lazio man stands little chance of equaling Lothar Matthaeus' 150 international appearances. However, he could tie and surpass Mueller's record of 68 goals for die Mannschaft during the France match. Indeed, Klose is well within striking distance of der Bomber, having found the net 67 times in international competition.
France won't make Klose's task easy, and there always are some jitters when one approaches a career milestone—especially one as great as the superlative for career goals for a country with a footballing history as rich as that of Germany. Records are to be broken, though, and it now seems to be a matter of time before Klose reaches the magic number of 69.