One might have thought judging by the reaction in the immediate aftermath of Germany’s match against Algeria, especially in the German media, that it was the African side that had prevailed, and not Joachim Low’s side.
Per Mertesacker, in particular, felt it necessary to defend his teammates in light of heavy criticism (in German) at home.
We should pause for a moment and remember the overused “there are no easy games in international football” cliche.
At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Fabio Capello’s England side scrambled to a goalless draw against the apparently hapless Algerians, who again had almost exclusively been written off in most quarters.
The pressure was palpable and the Germans just had to beat unfancied Algeria.
The Mannschaft failed to hit the heights against a “plucky” North African side that performed with skill, freedom and had absolutely nothing to lose. These are a dangerous cocktail of footballing ingredients as opponents of fellow massive underdogs Costa Rica might also testify.
Yet, this is no time to go overboard with the criticism of Germany. Perspective is needed and there is no need to panic. Yes, Germany were undeniably below-par but the epitome of the “tournament team” have now reached the quarter-finals in every World Cup since 1954. Job done.
OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) June 30, 2014
Another positive for the Germans—Spain and Italy— the teams that have blocked their passage to glory in past competitions, have long since exited the tournament and both “bogeymen” can commence summer holidays at their leisure.
FIFAWorldCup (@FIFAWorldCup) July 1, 2014
The quarter-final already looms large against the French on Friday with a mouth-watering clash at Rio’s Maracana the reward.
Low will hope to have the classy Mats Hummels fit again after a bout of fever. The Borussia Dortmund defender was clearly missed on Monday and can add more solidity to an over-worked defence.
Behind them, man of the match Manuel Neuer proved once again that he is the most complete goalkeeper in the game.
Having arguably the world's best goalkeeper in their ranks should help matters. Manuel Neuer is a modern-day goalkeeping quarterback: He is adept at receiving back passes and accurately distributing the ball—a role he performs outstandingly at club level. With the goalkeeper technically acting as "libero," thereby adding an 11th outfield player, you are creating a man advantage in your own half.
All critics, myself included, must also begrudgingly concede that the Germans’ perceived Achilles’ heel—their defence—has now managed to keep three clean sheets out of four matches in normal competition time. Not too shabby a record, given how much they are pilloried.
Admittedly, France have looked good (so far) and coach Didier Deschamps has done a remarkable job transforming “L’Equipe Tricolore's” fortunes. However, the French still have lots of damage to repair after the 2010 World Cup shambles and an equally demanding public to appease.
Considering their rather serene progress so far in the competition, France could now have slightly more to lose. Pressure and weight of expectation is a definite burden and are not easy to overcome. Just look at Brazil and their stuttering progress to the last-eight for confirmation.
The opening rout of Portugal showed what this German side is capable of against a side on “equal terms.” In my opinion, Germany will be more relaxed and encounter less pressure when facing more fancied opponents.
I expect Germany to use that freedom to their advantage, raise their performance and come out on top against France.
Follow Mark Lovell on Twitter @LovellLowdown