Old foes Germany, France clash for semi-final berth

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THE French are bullish. The Germans seem to be in a conundrum. European neighbours France and Germany collide in a heavyweight clash at the Maracana Stadium on Friday with the winners advancing to the semi-finals of the World Cup. Both teams advanced to the quarter-finals by ending African World Cup hopes on Monday with the French winning 2-0 against Nigeria and Germany scraping 2-1 past Algeria to send the last two remaining teams from the dark continent packing.

But the wins for both teams weren’t entirely convincing.

France needed two late goals to prevail against a gallant Nigeria — a stark contrast to their swashbuckling performances in their opening two group games where they put eight goals past Honduras and Switzerland.

That was followed by a goalless draw against Ecuador in their final Group ‘E’ game before a goal by Paul Pogba and an own goal by Nigerian defender Joseph Yobo sent them through to the quarters.

Immediately afterwards Pogba said that the French team weren’t “afraid of anyone, not even the Germans”.

The same spirit was echoed by his team-mate Mohammadou Sakho who said the side were playing with ‘rage’ inside them.

That rage has been derived from Les Blues nearly missing out on the World Cup.

France, the 1998 World Cup winners, were 2-0 down from the first-leg of their World Cup playoff against Ukraine but turned it around with a 3-0 win in Paris to seal a ticket to Brazil.

“Of course I still have the rage inside me from that game,” Sakho said at a press conference in Riberao Preto on Wednesday. “We all have a little bit of that rage inside of us.

“We’re a very young team with new players. We’ve instilled a new spirit into the team — off the pitch, first of all — and it reflects on the pitch.

“We know that Germany are a big team, a big football nation. But we’re also very good and I believe in us.”

FRENCH coach Didier Deschamps (R) waves as he arrives with goalkeeper coach Franck Raviot at the Ribeirao Preto airport to board a plane to fly to Rio de Janeiro.—AFP
FRENCH coach Didier Deschamps (R) waves as he arrives with goalkeeper coach Franck Raviot at the Ribeirao Preto airport to board a plane to fly to Rio de Janeiro.—AFP

The match against France is an acid test for Joachim Loew’s side with Germany facing criticism for their below-par performances at the World Cup.

They started off with a 4-0 demolition of Portugal in their opening Group ‘G’ game but that was followed by a 2-2 draw against Ghana before a 1-0 win over the US.

A feisty Algerian side took them into extra-time before goals from Andre Schuerrle and Mesut Ozil saw them through.

GERMAN player Per Mertesacker waves as he walks beside team-mates Benedikt Hoewedes (second L) and Andre Schuerrle (R).—Reuters
GERMAN player Per Mertesacker waves as he walks beside team-mates Benedikt Hoewedes (second L) and Andre Schuerrle (R).—Reuters

“We are not happy with our performances,” German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said at a news conference in Santo Andre on Wednesday. “But in the end we’ve always come out as deserved winners. It’s the winning that matters.”

Loew and Germany face a major decision whether to tinker their line-up and move captain Philipp Lahm to a full-back posi-tion from midfield for the crucial quarter-final.

Lahm has been played as a holding midfielder in Germany’s opening four games but he’s had limited effect on the games.

GERMANY’S goalkeeper Manuel Neuer (L) listens to team-mate Thomas Mueller in the town of Santa Cruz Cabralia, north of Porto Seguro.—Reuters
GERMANY’S goalkeeper Manuel Neuer (L) listens to team-mate Thomas Mueller in the town of Santa Cruz Cabralia, north of Porto Seguro.—Reuters

And Neuer said he would also be happy to see Lahm return to the right back slot.

“I’m happy when Philipp plays right back,” he said. “He brings a lot of zip to our game. We’re stronger offensively when he plays full back.”

Similarly, Loew’s strategy to use centre-backs Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Howedes has also been questioned by former German captains Michael Ballack, Oliver Kahn and Lothar Matthaus.

Under Didier Deschamps, France have already gone a long way to restoring some pride after their hapless first round exit in 2010.

That has seen the likes of Pogba, Raphael Varane and Antoine Griezmann come into the squad and they are playing at their first major tournament.

There is a question mark over defender Varane, who spent the night in hospital with dehydration after their win over Nigeria while it remains to be seen whether Deschamps starts with Griezmann or Olivier Giroud upfront.

The German defence faces its biggest test so far but they will have centre-back Mats Hummels back after missing the round-of-16 match with flu.

Germany are seeking a fourth World Cup title and a first since 1990 and have history on their side. They — as West Germany — beat the French in the semi-finals at both the 1982 and the 1986 World Cups.

Probable teams:

FRANCE: Hugo Lloris, Mathieu Debuchy, Raphael Varane, Mamadou Sakho, Patrice Evra, Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Valbuena, Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud.

GERMANY: Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Per Mertesacker, Benedikt Hoewedes, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Mario Goetze, Thomas Mueller.