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AP/Press Association Images Mathieu Valbuena and Paul Pogba celebrate during the 2-0 win over Nigeria.
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Youthful French momentum could overpower jaded Germans in Rio
Mikey Stafford reports from Brazil, where Didier Deschamps’ side face a confused Germany.

Mikey Stafford reports from Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro.

WHEN THESE SIDES met in a friendly 17 months ago in Paris, Germany’s fightback from a goal down to win was just another indicator that Joachim Löw was building a side capable of going two steps beyond their semi-final appearances at the last two World Cups.

Four months earlier, they had come to Dublin and put six past the Republic of Ireland — they would eventually qualify at a canter, winning nine of their 10 games. In contrast, France would require a dramatic play-off win over Ukraine to secure their ticket to Brazil, where few expected Didier Deschamps’ side to be among the real contenders.

Two weeks ago a quarter-final between these European rivals would have been seen as an easy route to a third semi-final on the trot for the Germans, but the comparisons are no longer so favourable.

Germany are used to these competitions,” said Deschamps yesterday. “They play in these quarter-finals and semi-finals most of the time. They are more experienced but we will give it our all.”

The France coach is right, of course, but Germany’s experience is beginning to resemble fatigue and what was a settled team is starting to look stale. France, in contrast, came into the tournament with lots of questions but have answered most of them.

Eight goals in their opening two games hinted at a cohesive attack and, while they did not have it all their own way against Nigeria in their second round encounter, they kept a clean sheet and did not require extra-time, unlike this afternoon’s opponents.

France Soccer WCup France Nigeria AP / Press Association Images This French team has won the hearts of supports back in Paris. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Germany also started like the clappers, scoring four against 10-man Portugal, but it has been more mundane since. A hard-fought draw with Ghana and lackadaisical win over the United States were proceeded by the 2-1 extra-time victory over Algeria and questions are now being asked about Löw and some of his key players.

His perseverance with captain Philipp Lahm in the centre of midfield is being increasingly viewed as a double blunder — at once denying the team the forceful midfield duo of Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger, while simultaneously removing the one world-class full-back in his squad.

In attack, the performances of Mesut Özil, but particularly Mario Götze, have been below their very high standards and too much is being expected of Thomas Müller, who has managed to score four goals while playing in fits and starts.

An outbreak of flu affecting one-third of his squad was the last thing Löw needed ahead of only the fourth ever competitive meeting between these near neighbours but the Germany coach was typically bullish yesterday.

I don’t think we have shown a great, consistent performance so far. Ghana and the United States had nothing to lose and everything to win. This makes it not necessarily easy as they will do everything to win,” he said, before asserting his side recovered from a poor first half to dominate against Algeria.

“We took Algeria to their knees, not always with our technique, but our will to win. No team have reached their top performance. It is not easy during such a tournament.”
France were pretty close for long stages of their 5-2 win over Switzerland but that is not to say Deschamps is free from conundrums.

Brazil Soccer WCup Germany France AP / Press Association Images The balance of the German team is not quite right with Philipp Lahm in midfield. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

He has worked wonders with this group since succeeding Laurent Blanc after a poor Euro 2012, instilling in his team a spirit and unity that was so infamously lacking in South Africa four years ago.

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Then, a row between coach Raymond Domenech and a disaffected Nicolas Anelka led to an embarrassing stand-off between coaches and the squad when the players refused to emerge from their team bus for training at Knysna.

A replica of that bus was burned in Paris as a publicity stunt ahead of the World Cup and the cleansing ritual has had the desired effect.

Deschamps has his team of young stars playing for each other in a way that has some making comparisons with the World Cup-winning side of 1998, which he captained.

Our players are very competitive. Some play in major European clubs at top levels. We have to make them more united, with the same philosophy and same objective. To be in the French team brings certain duties and responsibilities,” said the former Juventus, Marseilles and Monaco manager.

The team may be united but Deschamps seems to have at least one selection issue to wrestle with and, like some of Löw’s, the fix appears straightforward for those on the outside looking in.

Brazil Soccer WCup France AP / Press Association Images Deschamps has won many fans for his fine work since taking over. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Olivier Giroud has not been convincing leading the line and France looked far more menacing against Nigeria when he was replaced by Antoine Griezmann who, along with the excellent Mathieu Valbuena, supported Karim Benzema.

The midfield three of Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi appear custom-built to upset a German unit that has looked at times disjointed.

Young, purposeful and exciting France taking on a confused, jaded and flu-ridden Germany in their first competitive meeting since the 1986 World Cup, at the Maracana.

The stage is set but the plot appears to have taken a twist since that friendly in Paris 17 months ago. France to advance.

Probable teams:

France (4-3-3): Hugo Lloris; Mathieu Debuchy, Raphael Varane, Laurent Koscielny, Patrice Evra; Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi; Mathieu Valbuena, Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann.

Germany (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Jerome Boateng, Per Mertesacker, Mats Hummels, Benedikt Howedes; Philipp Lahm, Sami Khedira; Andre Schurrle, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil; Thomas Muller.

Referee: Nestor Pitana (Argentina).

Kick-off: 1pm (5pm GMT), Estadio Maracana.

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