Picking a Combined France vs. Germany 2014 World Cup XI

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

Picking a Combined France vs. Germany 2014 World Cup XI

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    Christophe Ena/Associated Press

    Germany meet France in the World Cup quarterfinal on Friday, a clash between two of the leading candidates to win the tournament.

    The Germans started off their campaign brilliantly by demolishing Portugal 4-0, but have since faltered and needed 120 minutes to edge Algeria 2-1 in the round of 16.

    France have been more consistent; they handily won their group and advanced to the quarterfinal having beaten Nigeria 2-0 in normal time. Along with Colombia, Les Bleus are one of two among the last eight to have advanced by a multi-goal margin.

    There are many world-class stars among the French and German squads, enough to make at least one all-star team. B/R has selected the best of the best in every position among the squads of the European contenders, placing them in a 4-3-3 formation. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a look at the best of the best, beginning with the goalkeeper position.

Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer

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    Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

    Manuel Neuer World Cup Stats

    Matches Played: 4

    Minutes Played: 390

    Save Rate: 81.3%

    Pass Completion Rate: 85.7%

     

    In a head-to-head, Manuel Neuer beats Hugo Lloris every day of the week. The Tottenham stopper is a reliable man between the posts and has the class to play for one of Europe's most elite handful of clubs.

    However, Lloris' CV simply does not compare to that of the Bayern Munich man. Although he was named the Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year three times while at Lyon, the Frenchman's only professional titles are the Coupe de France and Trophee des Champions.

    Neuer, on the other hand, has won every possible domestic and international trophy at club level and has been hailed as the German Footballer of the Year, the Bundesliga's best goalkeeper, IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper, Euro 2012 Team of the Tournament and named to the UEFA Team of the Year and FIFA/FIFPro World XI, among other honors.

    Neuer has nerves of steel and usually comes up huge in the matches that matter most. Whether taking (and converting) a critical penalty kick, making split-second reflex saves or coming out of his box to defend—as he did 19 times, per Opta Franz, in the first 90 minutes alone against Algeria in Monday's round of 16 match—he can do it all. Lloris, athough often brilliant in his own right, is still merely mortal.

Right-Back: Philipp Lahm

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    Sergei Grits/Associated Press

    Philipp Lahm World Cup Stats

    Matches Played: 4

    Minutes Played: 390

    Pass Completion Rate: 87.7%

    Recovered Balls: 22

     

    Philipp Lahm spent nearly his entire club season and almost his entire World Cup in midfield, but he is actually the best right-back among the Germany and France squads. Actually, he's probably the best full-back of any side in the world. And for that he takes the right-defense position ahead of France and Newcastle man Mathieu Debuchy.

    Like Neuer, the Germany captain has won everything he could at club level. Beyond the accolades of his goalkeeping colleague, Lahm has won the German domestic double six times. He's been named to the Team of the Tournament at every international competition since 2006, a remarkably consistent record. And his 110 caps are only exceeded by Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose and Lothar Matthaus.

    Lahm is a calmly and quietly brilliant player who is a master of finding the sweet spot between attacking and defending, a rarity in today's game. With respect to Debuchy, a defender who at the age of 28 may now deserve to finally play for a top club, it's impossible to look past the German in this position.

Center-Back: Raphael Varane

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    Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    Raphael Varane World Cup Stats

    Matches Played: 4

    Minutes Played: 299

    Pass Completion Rate: 86.8%

    Recovered Balls: 18

     

    Raphael Varane may be young, but the 21-year-old has already made big steps in his career as a professional footballer. He established himself under Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, although a pair of knee injuries hindered his progress in 2013-14.

    Varane nonetheless played very well for 120 minutes in the Champions League final and has played for all but an hour out of 360 possible minutes thus far at the World Cup. He has a winning attitude and is the kind of player who comes up aces in matches that matter the most. In fact, he scored a key, late equalizer as a 19-year-old in his first-ever Clasico against Barcelona.

    With exceptional athleticism and marking ability as well as a cool head (he's only been booked once in 38 career appearances in La Liga), Varane is a more complete package than Per Mertesacker, Mamadou Sakho or Laurent Koscielny. Still a young player, the Real man will only get better and better.

Center-Back: Mats Hummels

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    Christophe Ena/Associated Press

    Mats Hummels World Cup Stats

    Matches Played: 3

    Minutes Played: 253

    Pass Completion Rate: 83.9%

    Recovered Balls: 31

     

    Of all the center-backs in the German and French squads, Mats Hummels is the most talented. His value to the German team was made abundantly clear when he was forced to miss the round of 16 match against Algeria, a fixture in which Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng's partnership in central defense was woefully flimsy, forcing Manuel Neuer to come out of his box 19 times.

    What Hummels lacks in pace he makes up for with near-prophetic foresight. The 25-year-old is a brilliant reader of the game, a superb man-marker who not only can defend but can play the ball exceptionally well from the defense.

    Mertesacker doesn't provide this combination, nor do Koscielny, Mamadou Sakho or Raphael Varane. And although Hummels is not enormously experienced, he's no less than any of his competitors.

Left-Back: Patrice Evra

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    Claude Paris/Associated Press

    Patrice Evra World Cup Stats

    Matches Played: 3

    Minutes Played: 270

    Pass Completion Rate: 78.2%

    Recovered Balls: 11

     

    Patrice Evra may be in the twilight of his illustrious career, but even at the age of 33, the Senegal-born left-back still has class. And he certainly is a more qualified left-back than an option in the German squad.

    Evra is one of the best left-backs of the last decade, a Champions League winner and five-time Premier League champion at Manchester United. He's won 16 trophies at club level and is a former member of the FIFPro World XI and UEFA Team of the Year.

    Like Lahm, Evra is a player who has managed to find a good balance between attacking and defending. His competition in the German squad is limited to a center-back (Benedikt Hoewedes) and a 22-year-old converted striker (Erik Durm). No contest.

Central Midfielder: Paul Pogba

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    Ricardo Mazalan/Associated Press

    Paul Pogba World Cup Stats

    Matches Played: 4

    Minutes Played: 264

    Pass Completion Rate: 81.9%

    Goals: 1

     

    Paul Pogba is the only French representative in the trio of central midfielders selected in this XI. The Juventus man is, at 21 years of age, one of the most talented midfield prospects in all of world football. And over the 2013-14 campaign, he made the leap from "talent" to full-fledged, proven professional.

    A rare combination of power and skill, Pogba is fast and strong in the challenge, can drive through the midfield with the ball at his feet, is a good distributor of the ball and is rather effective even in the final third. He is a complete package and still has some distance to go in his development.

    Pogba is superlative among his teammates, and with Lahm at right-back, has no competition from the German team. Comparing him to Toni Kroos or Bastian Schweinsteiger is irrelevant at this point, but in the coming years, the French midfielder could potentially become one of the world's best in his position.

Central Midfielder: Bastian Schweinsteiger

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    Sergei Grits/Associated Press

    Bastian Schweinsteiger World Cup Stats

    Matches Played: 3

    Minutes Played: 205

    Pass Completion Rate: 90.9%

    Recovered Balls: 12

     

    Bastian Schweinsteiger may not be at his very fittest right now, but the Bayern Munich man remains a class act, as he's shown at the World Cup. The 29-year-old is a real warrior who, despite sustaining a crippling ankle injury in early 2012, has played through the pain barrier and carried on regardless of several hefty setbacks he's faced.

    Schweinsteiger is a complete package, a central midfielder who has the tactical nous and physicality to defend, the will and tenacity to fight for the ball and the skill to dribble and pass the ball through a crowded midfield. He's won everything at Bayern Munich and already has 105 caps for Germany.

    Looking across the pitch, Pogba is the only player who can give Schweinsteiger a challenge. Although talented, Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye just don't have the breadth of skills or the experience of the Bayern man.

Central Midfielder: Toni Kroos

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Toni Kroos World Cup Stats

    Matches Played: 4

    Minutes Played: 390

    Pass Completion Rate: 85.5%

    Assists: 2

     

    A combined German-French midfield wouldn't be the same without Toni Kroos. The 24-year-old, especially over the last two seasons, has developed a reputation for being one of the finest central midfielders in the world.

    Kroos is the only German to play in midfield in every minute of every game at the World Cup thus far, a testament to how important he is to Joachim Low's plans. Through the round of 16, he has, per Sportkultur, a tournament-leading 473 touches of the ball.

    Kroos also has been Bayern Munich's most consistently used midfielder in recent years, his superlative shooting and ability to distribute the ball over short and long distances giving him an edge over Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi, neither of whom have won a Champions League title or as many domestic titles as the three-time Bundesliga champion.

Right-Winger: Thomas Mueller

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    Thomas Mueller World Cup Stats

    Matches Played: 4

    Minutes Played: 382

    Goals: 4

    Assists: 2

     

    Thomas Mueller plays as a striker in the current Germany team but nonetheless makes this combined XI on the right wing in order to accommodate a natural center forward.

    Mueller's competition comes from Mathieu Valbuena, a very underrated player but one who during his much longer career (he is nearing his 30th birthday) has not come even close to hitting the heights Mueller has reached.

    The diminutive playmaker is an effective creator of goals to the tune of an average of around one every three games in his professional career and has won Ligue 1 twice and the Coupe de France three times. Internationally, he's only made 36 appearances.

    Mueller, on the other hand, is a hero for both club and country. He won the World Cup Golden Boot at the age of 20 and is now a candidate to claim the award for a second consecutive tournament; his nine career goals in the competition make him already one of the most prolific scorers in its history.

    At club level, like all of his Bayern teammates in this XI, Mueller has won every competition. He played a direct hand in more goals last season than any of his teammates, including the likes of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Mario Mandzukic. And most important of all, he has a winning attitude. If not flashy, should he remain fit, he'll retire a legend of the game.

Left-Winger: Mesut Ozil

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Mesut Ozil World Cup Stats

    Matches Played: 4

    Minutes Played: 362

    Goals: 1

    Pass Completion Rate: 76.5%

     

    Mesut Ozil makes the grade as the left-winger in this team, edging teammate Mario Goetze and French counterparts Antoine Griezmann and Loic Remy.

    Although Ozil has taken some criticism over the last year, he still is more proven than any of his competitors. The playmaker is not the best athlete or greatest finisher, but his touch and ability to play a defense-splitting pass are rivaled by few.

    The two-time member of UEFA's Team of the Year has shown this time and time again, in Germany, Spain and (in patches) in England. Transfermarkt lists him as having assisted 155 goals (and scored 68 more) in 386 appearances at club level. For country, he's scored 18 and assisted 27 in 59 caps.

    Remy is more of a center forward, while at 23, Griezmann still hasn't been tested at the highest level. Both attackers have the potential to be great footballers, but for now, Ozil stands ahead of them in this combined XI.

Striker: Karim Benzema

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    Ricardo Mazalan/Associated Press

    Karim Benzema World Cup Stats

    Matches Played: 4

    Minutes Played: 360

    Goals: 3

    Assists: 2

     

    There are only four out-and-out strikers among the France and Germany squads, and Les Bleus have three of them.

    Beating competition from Germany's Miroslav Klose and teammates Olivier Giroud and Loic Remy is Karim Benzema.

    Although he hasn't always performed for France, the 26-year-old has three goals and two assists at the World Cup and appears to have turned over a new leaf. It was only a matter of time, perhaps, for the forward whose ability to score and create chances for his teammates with clever passes and runs makes him a perfect fit at Real Madrid.

    Benzema is a Champions League winner who has been a prolific scorer and provider of goals throughout his career. Per Transfermarkt, he's found the net 168 times and set up 97 more in 368 professional appearances, figures that leave Giroud and Remy miles behind.

    Klose is an international hero, but at the age of 36 is well past his prime. A few years ago it may have been a closer contest, but right now there's no denying that the Frenchman, in the prime of his career, is the more effective forward.