Happy Fourth of July! Appropriately, today’s two World Cup matches should bring the pyrotechnics; the world is expecting Football Fireworks of the highest luminosity. The second match features Neymar’s Brazil, the hosts and most successful team ever, against James Rodriguez’s Colombia, the best side in the tournament so far. But first, it’s France and Germany, the old neighbors and rivals, who have scored a combined seventeen goals in three previous World Cup meetings. Can the technical class of the French overcome the speed and power of the Germans?
What’s At Stake
Besides winning the bragging rights attendant to a rivalry thousands of years old, the Germans have a chance to make history today as the first team ever to reach four World Cup semifinals in a row. Their three World Cup victories (in Switzerland 1954, West Germany 1974, and Italy 1990) put them third all-time behind Brazil (five) and Italy (four). Only the hosts have reached as many finals as Germany’s seven.
Meanwhile, the French always reach the semifinal – when they make it out of the group stage. They’ve only escaped the first round in five of the last fourteen tournaments, but they’ve made it to the penultimate round on each of those five occasions, winning the Cup at home in 1998.
Germany’s Miroslav Klöse also has a chance to claim a slice of personal history today. He is currently tied for most World Cup goals ever with Ronaldo (fifteen). A goal today would give him the outright lead.
This is a match between two sides that use similar shapes: 4-3-3 vs. 4-3-3. Strangely, their personnel within those shapes shares the same quirk: the midfield “3” is made up of a deep passer and two energetic pressers.
The main difference between the popular 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 is that the former uses one attacking playmaker and two defensive destroyers, while the latter uses one defensive destroyer and two attacking passers.
The strange thing about both these sides is that they are playing a midfield three of one passer and two destroyers, but flipping them around. The idea is that putting the energetic tacklers in front allows a team to 1) play a high pressing game, and 2) protect the passer. So Germany’s masterful Philipp Lahm sits behind the powerful Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteger/Sami Khedira, while France’s classy Johan Cabaye sits behind Paul Pogba and the pit bull-like Blaise Matuidi.
All of that suggests that neither Lahm nor Cabaye will have much time on the ball today, and so both teams may have to build attacks down the wings. That’s bad news for Germany, whose fullbacks normally play centerback and seem likely to be torn apart by the pace and trickiness of French wingers Mathieu Valbuena and Antoine Griezmann. The German wide forwards, Mesut Özil and Mario Götze, löve to come deep infield to find the ball; they might have very little space to work in that area today.
It appears German manager Joachim Löw has finally moved Philipp Lahm back to his natural right back position. He’ll be responsible for tracking Griezmann. All three of Schweinsteiger, Kroos, and Khedira will play in midfield.
Players to Watch
France: Mathieu Valbuena, the diminutive winger. He’s a creative, versatile player who can go inside or outside, dribble or swing in crosses.
Germany: Manuel Neuer, the goalkeeper. Usually, picking a goalkeeper here means I think the keeper’s team is cruising for a bruising. Neuer, though, is actually an interesting player to watch; he played almost as a sweeper against Algeria.
Jon Champion and Stewart Robson. Champion began his career in soccer commentary with the BBC almost thirty years ago. Robson, now bald, was a robust midfielder for North London’s Arsenal and East London’s West Ham United.
Match-specific Drinking Games
Tiny: Take five shots if you mistake the tiny French winger Valbuena for one of the children who accompany the players onto the field. Be honest. How drunk? They usually wear different colors. You’ll be okay.
Intrepid: Take a shot anytime Germany’s sweeper-keeper Manuel Neuer touches the ball outside his eighteen-yard box. How drunk? This would have killed you in the Germans’ match against Algeria.
Hopeful: Take a shot whenever French forward Karim Benzema (pictured above) does so. He’s taken nineteen shots so far. The next highest French player? Twelve. How drunk? Steady buzz.
France: Red wine.
– Read my general World Cup watching guide.
– Check out Zonal Marking, my favorite tactics website.
– See a commentary schedule or a review of each commentator.
– See where I’m getting my national drink recommendations.
– Check out other match previews involving these teams: Germany vs. Algeria, France vs. Nigeria, USA vs. Germany, Germany vs. Ghana, Switzerland vs. France, Germany vs. Portugal, France vs. Honduras
Picture credit: picsndquotes.com