France vs. Germany: Key Battles That Will Decide World Cup Quarterfinal Clash

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France vs. Germany: Key Battles That Will Decide World Cup Quarterfinal Clash
David Vincent/Associated Press

Wait. You're telling me this is a quarterfinal matchup?

France and Germany, two past world champions and two of the most celebrated nations in the sport. France and Germany, two teams that have yet to lose in Brazil and have both put together transcendent stretches yet also shown noticeable weakness. France and Germany, two sides that have met 25 times and been separated by just one goal. 

This World Cup just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it? 

Let's take a look at the first of two monumental quarterfinal clashes for Friday. 

 

France's Wide Attacks vs. Germany's Full-Backs

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Well, "full-backs."

For the majority of the World Cup, Jurgen Low has deployed four center backs across his back line, with Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Howedes moving to the outside. He tried to go with Shkodran Mustafi at right-back against Algeria, but the Sampdoria defender went and tore a muscle in his left thigh. 

There's the ever-looming possibility of Philipp Lahm returning to his more natural role at right-back, but that doesn't sound likely at this point. 

"We have to do it better against France," Low told reporters, via Reuters' Karolos Grohmann. "I have taken my decisions, including the role of Lahm and I will stick to those until the very end."

In other words, Boateng and Howedes will remain on the outside when Mats Hummels inevitably returns from illness. That leaves Die Mannschaft susceptible to pace on the wings, and that's exactly what France possess. 

Mathieu Valbuena will be especially dangerous. The diminutive attacking midfielder has caused fits for defenses this tournament, averaging 3.7 key passes and 3.7 crosses per match, per WhoScored.com. Moreover, notice where he did much of his creative work against Nigeria: 

Add in the pace of Antoine Griezmann (or Karim Benzema if Olivier Giroud starts up front) on the other wing, along with the overlapping runs from Mathieu Debuchy and Patrice Evra, and France have the amalgam of pace and width to expose the powerful-but-slow Germans. 

 

Germany's Midfield vs. Paul Pogba

Frank Augstein/Associated Press

That is, if Les Bleus can get the ball first. 

Through four matches, Germany are second in the World Cup in possession (63.2 percent) and second in pass success percentage (88.2), per WhoScored.com. Their spacing, movement off the ball and passing have been Spain-esque (circa 2010, not 2014), and players like Lahm, Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger have controlled the middle of the pitch. 

Continuing that trend will be important if they hope to neutralize Paul Pogba, arguably the most dangerous player on either side. 

As Squawka noted, the 21-year-old played a true box-to-box role against Nigeria, which marked easily his best performance of the tournament thus far: 

Starting either centrally or in a deep-lying position, the electrifying Juventus star used his pace and strength to make long, mesmerizing runs through the defense that help set up the French attack. He finished with a team-high 57 passes and four completed dribbles. 

It will be key for Germany's midfielders to keep him from getting the ball in those positions and starting the break. 

 

Thomas Muller vs. Raphael Varane and Mamadou Sakho

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

This one is simple for France's center backs: Don't lose sight of Thomas Muller. 

The 24-year-old isn't the strongest or fastest player in the world, but he is cerebral, crafty and incredibly hard-working. Sort of like that unathletic slot receiver finding the holes in a zone defense, Muller knows how to get open and always seems to sense where the ball is going to end up before everyone else. 

It's why he won the 2010 Golden Boot with five goals, and it's why he has four more in Brazil. 

The versatility of movement of Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil make Germany's entire attacking trio difficult to track, but Muller is the most dangerous finisher. If he gets free around the box, even for a microsecond, the results will be catastrophic for France. 

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