Germany were heavily panned for their performance against Algeria, but of course they live to fight another day against France in the World Cup quarter-finals on Friday.
Yes, the Germans were unquestionably average against the North Africans, but the epitome of the “tournament team” survived and have now reached the quarter-finals of every World Cup since 1954.
Algeria were left to rue their missed chances, and there was, at least in my living room, a crushing air of inevitability about Germany progressing once the game went into extra time.
Under-pressure coach Joachim Low has a few options to reinvigorate his side, as the Germans look to fizz past the French and into the last four.
But one thing is certain: Germany cannot afford another sloppy performance against the French.
Makeshift right-back Shkodran Mustafi suffered a tournament-ending injury against the Algerians with 20 minutes of normal time to play. Captain and ultimate all-rounder Philipp Lahm slotted seamlessly into the back four, definitely adding solidity to the wobbly defence.
Ever since the early stages of the tournament, there has been a clamour from approximately 80 Million “Bundestrainers” for Lahm to resume his rightful position at right-back.
Yet Low is his own man, and it would now be a major surprise if Low doesn’t stick to his tried-and-tested system of four central defenders in a 4-3-3 system—provided Mats Hummels recovers from a bout of fever.
The classy Borussia Dortmund defender was sorely missed against the Algerians. If fit, he will surely slot in again in central defence alongside the reliable Per Mertesacker:
So gut wie wieder hergestellt :)Almost back at 100% :) pic.twitter.com/Mp1ncU81fw— Mats Hummels (@matshummels) July 2, 2014
Judging by the Algeria game, Jerome Boateng seems more comfortable on the right side of defence, with the quietly efficient Benedikt Howedes at left-back.
Hummels’ return will leave Lahm to shore up defensive midfield, where he has started every game of this tournament.
Mustafi’s misfortune meant an introduction for the “rested” Sami Khedira on 70 minutes. This substitution also gave the Germans added impetus as the game wore on. The Champions League winner from Real Madrid combined with Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the engine room as the German midfield began to dominate.
Both Schweinsteiger and Khedira entered the tournament under injury clouds, and Low clearly has doubts about their ability to last the distance.
A Bayern block of Kroos, Lahm and Schweinsteiger has started the last two games, and it seems unlikely that Low will opt to play Khedira and Schweinsteiger together from the start, unless of course Hummels’ sickness is more serious than at first feared. If Hummels is hamstrung health-wise, Lahm would of course return to bolster the defence.
That back four again came in for a lot of criticism against the Algerians, yet the under-fire unit did keep another clean sheet in regulation time and only conceded when the game was all but won.
Low would be wise to turn his focus to attacking midfield areas.
He will persevere with Thomas Mueller at the fulcrum of the “false nine” formation, although Mueller too played with a cold against Algeria. It is imperative that Germany’s top scorer is fully fit against the French.
And then there is the misfiring Mesut Ozil.
The patience of the German public seems to be wearing decidedly thin with Ozil, but Low has continually backed his man, electing to start Arsenal’s record signing in every game on the right in attacking midfield.
Despite a late goal against Algeria, Low needs more from the Arsenal man. Ozil is part of a tarnished group of players who have gained a reputation for falling short on the big occasion. It seems certain that Low will stick by Ozil, but it is high time for him to deliver.
To complement attacking midfield, Low has a choice of umlauts between Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle.
Lukas Podolski started against the States before getting injured. The Arsenal man is another option for Low but has recently had to get used to a mere substitute role for both club and country.
Despite signing a contract extension until 2016, it’s do-or-die time for coach Low, and a defeat against France would be hard to survive, especially if his team selections appear confused.
I expect Low to be strong and ignore the clamour for changes from those unforgiving millions at home. After all, the German trainer’s decisions are the only ones that really matter. If he is to fail, at least then he can go down safe in the knowledge that he stayed true to himself.