With the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup only hours away, Euan Cunningham previews the action.
France v Germany is the first match of the day at 5pm, and both sides will be confident about progressing. France have arguably played the most attractive, free-flowing football so far, with players like Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba, and the diminutive but deadly Mathieu Valbuena regularly cutting through the opposition. While Germany have not always earned the same commendations, only scraping through the last round against Algeria by the skin of their teeth, they are as usual a force to be reckoned with in a global tournament and should never be discounted as a major threat.
While the midfield is always a key area of combat in such a high-stakes game between two opponents of this level of quality, the match up between France’s forward line and Germany’s defence will be interesting as well. At the back for Germany, the central defensive pairing of Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng, while both are high-class operators at club level, has looked shaky at times. Mertesacker in particular has a serious problem against pacy, tricky forwards, often looking clumsy and ungainly when having to sprint or change direction quickly. With these defensive fallibilities, he probably wishes he wasn’t facing such a powerful strike force as that which the French possess. Benzema, Giroud and Griesmann have all looked capable of troubling far more mobile defenders than the big German, and if they can get him running towards his own goal chances should come regularly.
Another confrontation to look forward to is that between the respective midfields. Sami Khedira, Mario Goetze and Phillip Lahm are a formidable threesome to have in the middle of the pitch, but if any player can cause them issues its the explosive talent of Paul Pogba. The ex-Man United youngster has been a revelation, with his ability to score goals, rake long passes out to either wing and also crunch in with a tackle proving instrumental in France’s games so far. Along with Blaise Matuidi, he will be hoping to disrupt the Germany midfield and set Benzema & co. free to take on the back line.
Brazil then take on Columbia at 9, a game which a casual observer might put down as a simple win for the brilliant Brazilians. This would however be a grave mistake. Lead by arguably the player of the tournament so far (James Rodriguez), the Columbians will be confident that they can disturb a Brazil defence that, for all it’s much-vaunted quality, has looked staggeringly lightweight so far. Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Dani Alves should be a match for any strike force, but throughout the World Cup have always seemingly been constantly on the edge of disaster. Croatia troubled them, as did Mexico, and Cameroon were the better team for arguably the whole first half. Even against Chile the back line looked wobbly.
On the other hand, we should not forget the unbelievable talent the Brazilians have in forward positions. Neymar & co. can cut a route through to goal like a knife slicing through hot butter, and this should give Luis Felipe Scolari confidence that his side will never be completely out of the game. However, if they give Rodriguez in particular and Columbia in general too much time and space, or get drawn into unfamiliar positions by some neat forward play, this route back into the game may be very tricky indeed.
As usual, these are two almost impossible games to predict. But for what it’s worth (very little), I believe France will, just, have too much for Germany and that it will be a similar situation for Brazil as they take on their fellow South Americans Columbia.