The FIFA World Cup Quarterfinals begin Friday, and France, after bulldozing through Group D and defeating Nigeria 2-0 in the Round of 16, is ready to enact revenge on Die Mannschaft in the two teams’ first Finals meeting since 1986. Les Bleus fell to Germany in the ’86 semifinals 2-0, just four years after the harrowing loss they suffered in penalties in 1982 when then-German-goalkeeper Harald Schumacher flattened French defender Patrick Battiston, knocking him out and leaving him with two broken teeth, three cracked ribs, and a damaged vertebra.
Some French fans credit it as the moment that France started loving football. Since then, Les Bleus have joined the top FIFA countries and have been in the World Cup Final twice, with one championship win. Though only two of the players on the current 23-man roster were alive in 1982, and though Battiston has publicly expressed forgiveness for Schumacher, the country of France has not forgotten.
Mamadou Sakho was quoted as saying that his teammates will be “filled with rage” for this game—not at the Germans, but at their own performance in qualifiers, which almost led them to miss out on the tournament. France got in, though, and has been tearing up the field ever since. The defense, led by Sakho, has allowed only two goals in the entire tournament, both late in the game against Switzerland, when France was already up by five. Meanwhile, Karim Benzema and the attacking core have netted 10 over the last four games. Germany has earned nine goals to the three it allowed, two to Ghana and one to Algeria.
The scores and the goal differentials do not tell the whole story, though. France has dominated possession and control in all of its games in the 2014 World Cup so far. Honduras and Switzerland never stood a chance—in fact, the only time France’s defense ever really broke down was while they were winning 5-0 against the Swiss—and Ecuador was unable to score against the French “B-team,” who were given the opportunity to start in the final group match. Nigeria, with all of its speed and fancy footwork, only had a handful of chances, and only Joseph Yobo was able to score for the Africans—except he scored in his own net. France was one of the only round of 16 teams to escape playing in extra time and head to the quarterfinals on a decisive victory.
The Germans were not one of those teams. After struggling a little more than expected in Group G—they pulverized Portugal, but drew with Ghana 2-2 and just barely beat an exhausted United States team—Die Mannschaft came into the game against Algeria with perhaps a touch too much confidence. After all, Algeria almost did not make it to the knockout rounds. Germany underestimated the speed of the Africans, however, and for the first time in the tournament the defense looked completely lost. If the Algerians had put any one of their several breakaway balls into the net in the first 90 minutes, the quarterfinals would have turned out a little differently.
The biggest obstacle for the Germans now, it seems, is wellness. Coach Joakim Low announced Thursday that at least seven of his players are suffering from “flu-like” symptoms, and though the German skipper says it is “not that bad,” any sort of illness in the punishing environment that is Brazil will surely take its toll. Germany is already tired from going a full 120 minutes against Algeria just a few days ago. If Les Blues take advantage of the Germans’ physical state and strike hard and fast, they will win the match.
Die Mannschaft is a football powerhouse, and more than proved its abilities in the opening match against Portugal. The Germans seemed to have peaked too soon, though, while France has stayed consistent throughout the tournament. Les Bleus will capitalize on the German weaknesses exposed by the Algerians, and will move on to the semifinals for another shot at the championship.
Commentary by Christina Jones
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