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Jul 1, 2014

France vs. Germany: 50-50 preview

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ESPN FC's Leonardo Bertozzi discusses what the victory over Nigeria does for France in the remainder of the World Cup

France and Germany face each other in a mouth-watering quarterfinal at the Maracana this Friday; Jonathan Johnson (France) and Stephan Uersfeld (Germany) preview the tie.

Sum up your tournament so far

Jonathan Johnson: It has been a very good World Cup campaign for France in Brazil so far. By reaching the quarterfinal stage, Les Bleus have achieved everything they set out to at the start, and anything gained from this point onward is a bonus.

There have been slight question marks over coach Didier Deschamps' chopping and changing of the team -- notably against Ecuador in the final Group E clash -- but no genuine complaints. With their place in the last eight now secure, the French will approach this match free from the weight of any expectations and should be able to fully express themselves against a surprisingly vulnerable Germany side.

Stephan Uersfeld: The 2014 World Cup for Germany begins in the quarterfinals. It usually does; Die Nationalmannschaft have never failed to qualify for the final eight, and have done so again with a 2-1 extra-time win against Algeria. That is the good news for Joachim Loew's XI, which started off the tournament in style.

But ever since that 4-0 victory against a lacklustre Portugal, Germany have failed to live up to the huge expectations in the country. A 2-2 draw against Ghana, with some wild defending and attacking toward the end, was followed by a cynical 1-0 win over the United States. Loew has invented a defending line of four centre-backs. It has, so far, not been the best idea. Discussion about Philipp Lahm's role and the midfield formation have also overshadowed the run to the quarterfinals.

WC history between the two countries 

JJ: When people think of France versus Germany at the World Cup, the first thought to go through almost every French football fan's head -- possibly Germans' too -- is the infamous clash between French defender Patrick Battiston and West Germany goalkeeper Harald Schumacher during the 1982 semifinal in Spain. Les Bleus eventually lost 5-4 on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw that is remembered for both the right and wrong reasons.

That was the pair's second meeting on the World Cup stage, though, with France having beaten the West Germans 6-3 to secure third place at the 1958 edition in Sweden. Four years after the Battiston incident, the two met again in Mexico -- also in the semifinals -- but France were beaten 2-0 and so Germany lead the World Cup head-to-head two to one. Recent meetings have been limited to friendlies, but Les Tricolores boast a good record, having won three of the past five since 2001.

SE: The two nations have not met at the World Cup in 28 years. They will play each other for the fourth time at the highest level. In 1958, France beat holders Germany 6-3 in the match for third place. In 1986, their last meeting, Andy Brehme and Rudi Voeller sealed Die Nationalmannschaft's second consecutive final.

Like in 1982, they lost the final. But it was that meeting in 1982, also in the semifinal in Sevilla, that will be discussed ahead of Friday's meeting: Gijon, Gijon, Battiston -- that ugly Harald Schumacher foul on Patrick Battiston. For Germany, this World Cup has 1982 written all over it. The fear of another "Schande von Gijon" against the U.S., Algeria wanting revenge for it, and just falling short. Now France versus Germany, Battiston versus Schumacher.

What are your expectations for the rest of the tournament?

JJ: Deschamps and his players set out to reach the quarterfinals, laying the foundations for a deeper run and a shot at ultimate success in the 2016 European Championship on home soil two years later. Whatever happens next, this Brazilian sojourn has already been a success. France supporters will need no reminding of how close Les Bleus came to failing to reach Brazil, and the way the team have reinvented themselves under Deschamps in such a short space of time has been extremely impressive. If the French can knock out the Germans, arguably the strongest overall team left in the competition, then they will really believe they can go on to win the whole thing.

SU: Low and Die Nationalmannschaft need to get their act together. "Do you want us to play beautiful football and get eliminated once again," a frustrated Per Mertesacker raged at a TV reporter following the 2-1 win against Algeria. Germany want to win the title, no matter how they do it. And if that means winning ugly, then that is what they will do. Whereas there have been comparisons to 2002, when Die Nationalmannschaft ended up in the final against Brazil much to their own surprise, and playing ugly football, this team has much more quality.

They can win ugly, and they can win beautiful. And they can make the World Cup final. But they need to attack directly, not lose balls, and finally sort out the Philipp Lahm-Bastian Schweinsteiger-Sami Khedira midfield/full-back mess. And it would be quite useful if Mesut Oezil and Mario Goetze show up to the games, too.

Key Battle

JJ: Considering how vulnerable Germany looked in defence against Algeria without Mats Hummels, the key battle in this one will be Karim Benzema up against the Borussia Dortmund man (assuming he recovers from illness in time to play). Deschamps chose to start with Olivier Giroud as the focal point of the front three against Nigeria because of his strength and aerial ability. Although he did prove a physical match for the Africans -- possibly tiring them out before the introduction of the whippet-like Antoine Griezmann -- the Arsenal man is not likely to have the same impact against a German back line almost certain to be made up of four central defenders. Instead, the France coach will likely start Griezmann on the left, moving Benzema inside, with Mathieu Valbuena on the right. That will put Benzema in direct competition with Hummels, and the Real Madrid man will fancy his chances against a one-paced German back line.

SU: Benedikt Hoewedes versus Mathieu Valbuena. Against Switzerland, France enjoyed their best match of the tournament. They played fast, they used the wings and tore the Swiss defense apart. Didier Deschamps' XI won balls and directly played them to the wings. On the right, Valbuena enjoyed a terrific match against Ricardo Rodriguez, a left-back with international class. On Friday, the 29-year-old Marseille winger is set to clash with Loew's makeshift left-back Benedikt Hoewedes. The Schalke captain, an exceptional centre-back, has struggled in previous games. And despite playing higher up the field, he has not helped the team in attack, and his body height makes him vulnerable against the short winger.

Prediction

JJ: This will be a tight and entertaining 1-1 draw after 90 minutes, which lives up to its billing as the heavyweight clash of the World Cup so far. It will either remain level at 1-1 during extra time, or both teams will score again to finish tied at 2-2 after 120 minutes. Either way, it will ultimately come down to penalties and we all know what happens then ... The Germans always win on penalties. Or do they?

SU: It will be a huge fight between the two neighbouring countries. Germany are under pressure to win, and can indeed qualify for their fourth straight World Cup semifinal. And, in the end, the experienced midfield and discipline will win the match for Germany. The 3-2 result coming only after extra time.

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