The French are rising. The Germans have been accused of stagnating. Their quarter-final at the Maracana will determine the long-term destiny of both sides. Neil Humphreys looks at which key battles might settle the contest.
MESUT OEZIL V PATRICE EVRA
Before the tournament, the Frenchman had something to prove. Evra (right) was a man out of time and off the pace. What a difference a World Cup makes. Oezil (left) monopolises the spotlight. His goal against Algeria failed to mask another inept performance for the Germans, echoing his toils and troubles in the second half of last season with Arsenal. Oezil has the legs, but not quite the confidence. Evra has been around the block and is still running. If Oezil has the beating of the Manchester United fullback, Thomas Mueller will be waiting to take action. If he doesn’t, Loew will be waiting to take action.
TONI KROOS V PAUL POGBA
Kroos (left) has been competent in Brazil, without truly captivating. At the Maracana, he faces a World Cup revelation. The re-emergence of the individual has been the key tournament highlight and few have risen faster than Pogba (right). At 21, he still struggles with those youthful pangs of petulance but his wily coach has handled the histrionics superbly, pushing the midfielder towards maturity. Alongside Blaise Matuidi, the pair are indispensable for the French. In fact, their influence may force Loew to make changes in midfield to help Kroos cope with the dynamic duo.
KARIM BENZEMA V PER MERTESACKER
Les Bleus’ beast may start on the left, and cut inside or he will start in his favoured central role. Either way, Benzema (left) will prove to be a major headache for Mertesacker (right). Jerome Boateng could also be handed the keys to Benzema’s shackles, but the striker may drift left to test Mertesacker’s ability to turn slower than an oil tanker in a storm. Boateng’s positional duties can take a leave of absence and pace is not a virtue for Mertesacker. With the irrepressible Mathieu Valbuena cutting inside from the right, the French attacking triumvirate will take turns to poke Germany’s softer underbelly.
JOACHIM LOEW V DIDIER DESCHAMPS
Both men have successfully changed the game’s complexion from the dugout. Against Algeria, Loew (left) acted as early as half-time, hauling off the irrelevant Mario Goetze for eventual goalscorer Andre Schuerrle. Bringing on Sami Khedira and pushing Lahm in at right back also improved defensive stability. Deschamps (right) was no less proactive against Nigeria. Replacing the struggling Olivier Giroud with Antoine Griezmann changed the game. There’s little to choose between the line-ups. Calculated risks in the dugout may rule the day.