France ready to knock out Germany
We'll beat Germany, says confident captain Lloris
FRANCE v GERMANY
(Tonight, 11.59pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)
France are preparing without fear. Pressure has been replaced with playfulness in training. The Germans do not intimidate Les Bleus, they excite them.
Skipper Hugo Lloris insists the French are ready to topple their Teutonic rivals.
Their goalkeeper wasn't irritated by the mild interrogation this morning (Singapore time), he was titillated. The question made him laugh.
Most of his teammates are quarter-final virgins, but the Germans live in the knockout stages. Surely, a little fear must have spread through the dressing room.
"We are not afraid of the Germans. There is no fear," the goalkeeper insisted. "I am fully aware that in one match, anything is possible. But there is no fear.
"Why would there be fear? We are in the quarter-finals. We want to win this match for our friends, for our family. We want to win for France. We believe we can beat Germany."
From the breezy training session in the Maracana's mid-afternoon sunshine to a light-hearted press conference where Lloris and coach Didier Deschamps made fun of their defective microphones, optimism flows through the French squad on the eve of their biggest game since the 2006 World Cup final.
History looms large in the minds of eager journalists looking for a simplistic revenge narrative. But France lost to West Germany in the 1982 semi-final four years before Lloris was born.
He was still six months from arriving into the world when Patrick Battiston collided with German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher.
There are no German elephants in the French dressing room. They're either too young to remember or too old to care.
"You can talk about the history between France and Germany, but we live in the present," Lloris said. "We will concentrate on tomorrow's match and trying to win. We want to write our own history."
The Tottenham goalkeeper's bullishness prompted the suggestion that the French must have privately entertained the thought of returning to Rio next week for the final.
Deschamps and Lloris turned to each other and laughed. The coach has been swatting the question away all week. Now it was the captain's turn. He paused before answering.
"Can we win the World Cup? This is another step towards it,'' said Deschamps. "We are focused on moving step by step. Different nations have had different experiences.
"Spain have gone home and Germany said before the tournament that they intended to win the World Cup."
He smiled at this.
"What's important for us is to play our usual game. We will give the Germans major problems. When it's over, we can have no regrets."
The convivial mood in the press conference deep within the bowels of the Maracana spilled over onto the pitch.
As usual, the training session offered little beyond giving the photographers a chance to capture those glistening toned torsos.
Both the weather and the pitch are perfect. A cool 20 deg C awaits the Europeans inside the Maracana tonight; a familiar climate and a bit of a dry carpet at football's favourite cathedral.
The French certainly basked in the sunshine.
Playful elbows and schoolboy giggling seemed popular during the stretching and limbering. Confidence permeates through the camp.
On the halfway line, Deschamps was omnipresent, arms folded, deep in thought, a picture of concentration.
Before journalists were politely kicked out to allow the French to work on their tactics - though their 4-3-3 approach has been cast in stone by their fastidious mason in the dugout - they carried out one-touch passing drills.
Up close, their speed is dizzying.
The World Cup-winning skipper of 1998 really is cultivating something quite miraculous here; he liberates fast, inventive creators to counter-attack quickly, but never at the expense of collective unity.
Raymond Domenech's irritating class of recalcitrant mutineers left South Africa in disgrace. This morning's training session had the jokey camaraderie of a school PE lesson.
Paul Pogba neatly illustrates the new France. He was everywhere during the one-touch drills, scampering across the Maracana turf like a puppy off the leash and eager to please his master.
Their fearlessness appears contagious.
Deschamps continues to downplay his input with characteristic modesty, but Les Blues are unrecognisable from the squabbling side of 2010.
"They all play at a high competitive level in major European clubs," he said.
"But all we've done here is make them more united and share the same philosophy and objectives."
That's more than enough. Whatever happens against Germany, Deschamps has already succeeded where predecessors failed. Their renaissance will not end in Rio tonight.
"Nobody is afraid of playing against Germany," the coach added. "It's a quarter-final. Like Hugo said, it's a pleasure being here."
For the first time in a while, the World Cup feels the same way about France.