Rio De Janeiro: At this stage in South Africa, Thomas Mueller graduated from a young boy who was part of a Bayern Munich youth team to Kolkata to a man. With thrilling counter-attacks in Cape Town, he and Germany silenced an Argentina team that unfortunately was more about Maradona than Messi.
By then, France were home, their players fighting more against coach Raymond Domenech than opponents and were being called Les Miserables. Four years on, how times have changed? Mueller is still in the running for the Golden Boot but it is Colombian James Rodriguez who is the wunderkind. On Friday, Mueller and his mates will have to put behind their edgy performance against Algeria as they meet a compact France.
Under the weather
Germany will also have to fight an attack of influenza with coach Joachim Loew reported as saying that seven players were feeling slightly feverish. And though Matt Hummels is likely to return at the back, which was shaky against Algeria, it has to be seen how Germany cope with France’s runners between the lines. Karim Benzema is unlikely to let go of the kind of chances Algeria got in the first half where Germany held on largely because of the outfield abilities of keeper Manuel Neuer.
“If we play as we did against Algeria then France will definitely knock us out. They’re a different calibre of opponents. They need to improve 100% if they want to win on Friday,” Andreas Brehme told fifa.com. He was one of the scorers when Germany last beat France, 2-0 in the 1986 World Cup.
Brehme though thinks that is not impossible. “As a German player you know when it’s time to step up,” he said. That’s why Germany have made the semi-finals or the final of the last three editions.
Maybe that’s also why for Gerard Houllier and Dwight Yorke Germany are the favourites. And World Cup history shows teams usually have one bad game. France haven’t had one yet.
“It’s great for the French people that their team is now playing, well, like a team,” said Yorke, the Manchester United and Trinidad and Tobago star, here on Thursday. “At this level you can’t tell..., but I don’t see France going all the way.”
“What Didier Deschamps has done to this team is great. I think something happened after the first game (in the playoffs for qualification) against Ukraine. They play collectively and the team is moving in the right direction for the 2016 European championships,” said Frenchman Houllier.
But he stopped from saying it was advantage France. “The experience Germany have playing at this level will be crucial. The only problem they could have is whether they have recovered from the Algeria game.” Germany have a 11-8 win-loss record in 25 games against France but they are 1-1 in their last two matches. France won in 2012 and Germany last year.
Both coaches have selection dilemmas. Deschamps must decide whether to pick Antoine Griezmann, whose arrival turned an even game against Nigeria, or persist with Olivier Giroud’s speed and experience against a defence that has looked sluggish at times.
Germany coach Joaquim Loew has been urged to restore skipper Philipp Lahm to his right-back role but he has stood by his convictions. “He will only move back into defence if we have a problem,” said Loew. If he switches Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger or Sami Khedira will start in the midfield, though it was only after both were on did Germany assert themselves against Algeria. Both are back after injuries and a cramping Schweinsteiger had to be replaced against Algeria.