Key Battles That Will Shape France's World Cup Quarter-Final Clash with Germany
After 56 games, only eight teams remain at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. We are down to the business end of the tournament, and after some tense and tight matches in the round of 16, the quarter-finals get underway on Friday with France v Germany in Rio de Janeiro.
The world-famous Maracana stadium will host the meeting between two of Europe’s biggest sides. Both have won the competition before, and both will fancy their chances of lifting the FIFA World Cup again on July 13.
Didier Deschamps has a few tactical decisions to make for the Friday afternoon’s match. He will be troubled after France’s somewhat lacklustre attacking display against Nigeria and also how to combat the threat of the Germans.
2 - Didier Deschamps has won both of his games against #GER as a player (2-1 in 1990 & 1-0 in 1996). Winner.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) July 3, 2014
Neither side was brilliant in their narrow round-of-16 victories, but that is now in the past, with each side 90 minutes away from a place in the semi-finals. Both managers have selection headaches ahead of Friday’s game, and there are some very interesting battles that will go a long way to deciding what team makes it to the final four.
Here are the key battles that will shape France’s World Cup quarter-final clash with Germany.
Raphael Varane vs. Thomas Mueller
Four years ago, Thomas Mueller burst onto the world stage with a very impressive debut World Cup. His goals helped Germany reach the semi-finals, ultimately losing 1-0 to eventual Champions, Spain.
In the quarter-final tie, Mueller struck quickly to put his country 1-0 up over Argentina, and Diego Maradona’s men never recovered, losing the game 4-0.
That was Mueller’s fifth and last goal of the tournament, and would be enough—along with his assists—to win him the Golden Boot.
Fast-forward four years and again Mueller goes into the quarter-final stage with four goals to his name, and he looks even more as impressive as he did in South Africa.
This will be the toughest test the French defence have faced so far in this tournament. Coming into the competition, there were injury doubts over both Raphael Varane and Mamadou Sakho, and during the last few weeks, both have had their scares.
On Monday, Varane had to visit the local hospital due to dizziness and dehydration. He rejoined the team at their base on Tuesday and is expected to be fit to play on Friday.
It is always difficult to face an in-form striker at the best of times, but if there are doubts over Varane’s ability to be at his best, it could be a match-up that falls in heavy favour of the Germans.
His partner in the back line, Sakho, has been struggling with a thigh injury, and he missed the game against Nigeria. He should be back in the starting line-up in Rio, but he would be a risk if Varane wasn’t able to partner him.
At his best, Varane is one of the best young footballers in the world, in a similar position that Mueller was four years ago. Varane reads the game extremely well for someone so young; even against quicker strikers, he always looks to be one step ahead. Friday will be a huge test against a player with the intelligence and movement of Mueller.
If the Real Madrid defender can play at 100 percent, he has all the abilities to stop Muller, and guide France towards the semi-finals.
Paul Pogba vs. Bastian Schweinsteiger
One of Europe’s most experienced and decorated midfielders up against the young up-and-coming prospect, ready to take his throne. Bastian Schweinsteiger against Paul Pogba is one of the most mouth-watering battles in this quarter-final tie.
After a shaky start against Honduras, Pogba didn’t play until the last group game against Ecuador. With France’s job mostly done, it was a tame and cautious performance from Les Bleus.
However, once in the knockout round, Pogba took it upon himself to lead France forward from the midfield. He was still making mistakes, some errors in judgement broke down promising attacks, but again and again, Pogba would pick up the ball and attack the Nigerian back line.
He was relentless during the first half, taking no regard to the conditions of the Brasilia heat, and he nearly scored one of the goals of the tournament when he connected perfectly with Mathieu Valbuena’s cross.
Against Schweinsteiger, Pogba is in for one of his toughest battles. With over 100 caps for his country, there are not many players as experienced as the Bayern Munich midfielder in this situation.
He will know all about Pogba’s strengths and weaknesses, and he will have seen Wilson Palacios wind up the 21-year-old in the opening game against Honduras. If Schweinsteiger wants to get under the skin of the Juventus player, he will know exactly how to do it.
Pogba is not one for sentiment and over-respecting his opponents, he is well aware of his abilities and just how good he could become. The group stages were just the warm-up for Pogba, now is when it counts, and this is his stage to shine.
Youth vs. Experience, Guile vs. Intelligence, Schweinsteiger vs. Pogba—it is going to be a wonderful battle.
Antoine Griezmann vs. Philipp Lahm
This is one of the harder battles to predict, due to the caveats surrounding the match-up.
There is no guarantee that Antoine Griezmann will start against Germany, but his excellent showing in 30 minutes against Nigeria, should be enough to convince Deschamps to go with the Real Sociedad man from the beginning.
With 30 minutes to go, Griezmann added a new dimension of vibrancy to the French attack, and his energy and drive against a tiring Nigerian defence made all the difference.
So far in this tournament, Germany have resorted to playing centre-backs at full-back, and there is a chance that could continue on Friday with Jerome Boateng playing on the right if Mats Hummels recovers from his injury.
Deschamps would fancy his young forward up against the speed and mobility of Boateng, and coming inside against Per Mertesacker, but it depends on whether he wants to attack from the start, or use Griezmann with 30 minutes to go.
Either way, the 23-year-old forward will feature at some point in the game, and he will make a telling impact.
If Hummels is back to full fitness, then Joachim Low could finally move Philipp Lahm back to his most natural position at right-back. There is little doubt that Lahm is an international-class full-back, the one positive for France could be that it is not a position that the Germany captain has played regularly for some time.
Although Lahm is a consummate professional and one of the best players on the Germany team, his move back to full-back could see him a little rusty if up against the speedy and fearless Griezmann.
The left side of the France attack is going to be key to Les Bleus success, be it Griezmann or Karim Benzema and dependant on who they are matched against.
In 1982, West Germany beat France 5-4 on penalties after an enthralling 3-3 draw after extra time. That is one of the greatest games ever to feature at a World Cup. Friday’s clash at the Maracana has all the elements to surpass that classic encounter.