Zee Media Bureau/Dattaraj Thaly
Rio de Janeiro: France take on Germany in the first quarter-final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the historic Estadio Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. Both teams are undefeated in the tournament so far. The powerhouses of European football have had a very similar journey to the quarter-finals.
Germany were part of one of the toughest groups this year. They thrashed Portugal 4-0 in the first match, drew 2-2 with Ghana in the second match and beat USA 1-0 in their last group game. They topped the group and earned a clash with Algeria in the knock-out round. The Germans required extra time to beat Algeria 2-1, thus making their way into the quarters.
France too won their Group E. They eased past Honduras 3-0 in the first game. Then drubbed Switzerland 5-2 and then drew 0-0 with Ecuador to book a place in the knock-out round against Nigeria. Like Germany, France needed extra time to get past Nigeria 2-0 and make their way into the quarters.
Despite starting the tournament on a high, the German performance has gone down several notches as the tournament has progressed. Instead of hitting top gear, they have laboured their way past USA and Algeria in their last two matches. Former German captains have criticised their performance and asked them to up their game against France.
Thomas Muller has been the main source of goals for Germany in the tournament. Their midfield has generally been solid throughout the tournament and it remains their biggest strength. Mats Hummels remains a doubt for the game against France. His replacement, Shkodran Mustafi has been ruled out of the World Cup with an injury he picked up against Algeria. What would be more worrying is that Bastian Schweinsteiger limped off the game against Algeria, holding his troubled knee in extra-time.
France do not have any injuries to worry about. France have quietly gone about their business with no hype surrounding their squad post the exit of Franck Ribery. Young Paul Pogba, whose header helped France beat Nigeria has been impressive. Karim Benzema has looked out of sorts after his great showing in the first two group games.
Didier Deschamps has ingrained a problem-solving ability in this team. France have shown a very important quality that big teams have – patience. They have slowly worn out teams and played their best football in the second half of games. France have done enough in every game to get the desired result and that is the most dangerous quality of this side.
With two giants of Europe, coming head to head, the first quarter-final promises to be a cracking affair. Both teams have glaring weaknesses at the back and are flamboyant in attack. With such attacking flair on both sides, this match has all the makings of a classic.