Last 2 meetings in the World Cup have been in the semi finals
1986 West Germany 2 – 0 France
1982 West Germany 3 – 3 France ( West Germany won 5-4 on penalties)
Germans were expected to reach the quarter finals of this tournament and they have the quality and style to back the expectations as well. Well drilled, have played together for a time now and have genuine quality players with a lot of experience in all positions. Everyone would have been surprised if the same was said of the French national team. No one had talked about them and they were expected to come out of their easy group but were not serious contenders. Now, they are facing Germany and no one will be surprised if they win and reach the semi-finals.
Germans have the quality
Thomas Muller has impressed in the group stages and will be the key player again. He has not only scored 4 goals in this edition but he has 2 assists to his name as well. His movement looks minimal at times and gives the impression of a player not interested in the game. Sometimes, it looks that the game is passing him by but anywhere near the opposition box and in key attacking situations, Muller is deadly. He is only 24 years old and has scored 9 goals in 10 games across 2 world cups. He is a high quality player who knows where the goal is and also has the knack of being in the right area at the right time. Ask any top class coach and they will say this cant be taught. Either a player has it or not. Muller has this natural gift.
Miroslav Klose, all time joint top scorer in world cups, is a player who showed in group stage game that he can add a different dimension to the attack. Talking of different dimension, Schurrle added one in last game. Introduction of Andre Schurrle for Mario Goetze was the game changer for Germany in the last game vs Algeria. Speed was troubling their defence but Schurrle’s introduction gave Algerians the taste of their own medicine. Lahm went out as full back and Khedira came back in the midfield with Tony Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger. After these changes Germans looked like taking control of the game. Ozil and Schurrle in wide roles always make life difficult for the opposition.
When quality players take control of the game then the passing looks precise, movement is subtle and always on the money. Playing pattern becomes fluid and the game looks under control. Ozil, Kroos, Lahm and Schweinsteiger are the sort of players who make the game look easy, if they get in their stride it’s not only good viewing but quality football at its best. French would be vary of these players and rightly so.
They are winning but the jury is still out on their defence. Midfielders have been criticised and their place in the team has been questioned. If not place, then position they have been played at, has come under spotlight. Mesut Ozil and captain Philipp Lahm have been under fire from the media but Jogi Low has come out in defence and called them “key” in German scheme of things. German defence played a very high line against the Algerians. Goalkeeper Neuer played more or less as a genuine sweeper behind Per Mertesaker and Jerome Boateng. Both struggle when the opposition have players running at pace behind them. Neuer had a couple of nervous moments while doing the sweeper role but he did demonstrate that he is capable enough. He has been praised highly for his stand out performance in the last game.
French will be more dangerous than the Algerians were in testing the high line. They have in Cabaye who will not wait too long to send the ball over the high lines. Mats Hummels was injured for last game and his presence in big games is a big plus for the Germans.
Lahm needs to play the right back role and it gives the defence a stable look straight away. His place in the midfield can be taken up by Sami Khedira. Playing centre backs as makeshift full backs is not a very clever strategy, especially at the world cup. One player can do the job sometimes but having two, on both sides of centre backs, can be dangerous.
If Germans win this match, they will be the first team to reach 4 consecutive semi finals. That is what you will call consistency but not going on to win any will be seen as a team that peaks early and then fades out.
France can go all the way
They are an unpredictable team with a lot of quality and grace but lot of over inflated egos over the years have ensured a lot of infighting as well. By the way, they didn’t qualify for the 1994 edition, won in 1998, got knocked out at group stage in 2002, reached the final in 2006 and infighting made them disappear early again in 2010. Now in 2014…… can you see a trend?
French have the ingredients
In the games played till now Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema has demonstrated that he can score, he can assist and he has been delivering key passes in the final third. He has shown why he is rated so highly by the french. He has looked lively and if his shot accuracy increases then French will be smiling by next weekend. 4-3-3 played by the Les blues, under Deschamps, looks like the system most suited to french and Benzema leading the line seems the best option within that system
PSG’s Blaise Matuildi has been immense for the french till now. He can pass with high accuracy, he is not shy of a tackle and what he has demonstrated brilliantly has been the drive to take the ball forward. Les Blues needed a player to take that responsibility. Matuildi and Pogba , to an extent, have been good and their coach will be pleased.
Ex Newcastle and now PSG midfielder Yohan Cabaye has been doing the best job for Didier Deschamps and his team’s midfield. Everyone has talked about heat and humidity in this tournament. Water breaks, reminds more of cricket drinks breaks, have been taken in a few matches and rightly so. In soaring heat and humidity, chasing the ball and defending for long periods is a difficult and tiring game. Cabaye keeps the ball and passes it brilliantly. Possession and distribution has been his game and he is delivering well till now.
Debuchy and Evra as full backs have given solidity to the defence along with Koscielny and Varane. Varane has been spot on in his tackles in this tournament and looks the real deal at the big stage. Hugo Lloris has a solid back line in front of him and he has shown in his career that he can play the modern sweeper’s role. If his defence plays a very high line then Hugo will have to be the sweeper and he has good passing range from the back. Also, if French go behind and have to make the play then he might have to play sweeper’s role.
For Deschamps, his team has the ingredients but the big question is: Will the french make the best out the ingredients? They certainly can, only if these players can sustain the performances for the coming crucial games and take games, one at a time.
Flu like symptoms reported by Germans
Germans have reported that 7 players have flu like symptoms but have trained well and have not shown any exhaustion. If true, then it might just be too much against a very good French team. At this stage of the tournament, not only the team needs to get their tactics right but need every player in top physical condition. Heat and humidity has already made this world cup difficult for European teams and mass illness is the last thing a team would want before a crucial World Cup quarter final.