World Cup 2014: France could exploit Joachim Low’s risky strategy

 

Germany are in the Maracana on Friday afternoon, with a chance to reach their second straight World Cup semi-final, hoping that Didier Deschamps’ France side will not exploit their known weaknesses.

It is the tie of the round, for the right to take on Brazil or Colombia in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday night in the first semi-final. It is two of Europe’s finest, the surprising French team versus the known German team, football nations with four World Cup titles – and five runners-up spots – between them.

Before the World Cup began, Germany were thought to represent Europe’s greatest hope of winning the continent’s first-ever World Cup on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean. With British bookmakers, only Argentina and Brazil were shorter odds on 12 June.

Since then, Germany have won Group G, the hardest in the competition, shredding Portugal 4-0 along the way, remaining unbeaten before overcoming a tenacious Algeria side in the last 16. They have scored nine goals and played some of the attacking football that was expected of them.

And yet there remains a persistent fragility about Germany, a worry that they are beatable, and that some of their problems are entirely of Joachim Löw’s own design.

This Germany side play a remarkably assertive, proactive, front-foot brand of football, certainly compared to what they produced four years ago. The back four play high up the pitch, even with Per Mertesacker, not exactly quick on the turn, at centre-back.

Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer frequently had to charge off his line and act as a sweeper during the game against Algeria (Getty Images) Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer frequently had to charge off his line and act as a sweeper during the game against Algeria (Getty Images)
Against Algeria, the full-backs Benedikt Howedes and Shkodran Mustafi pushed far up beyond the centre-backs, leaving them exposed on the break. Germany needed extra time to beat Algeria 2-1 but even then they were indebted to goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who repeatedly had to charge off his line to sweep up the large vacant area behind his centre-backs, narrowly beating Islam Slimani and Sofiane Feghouli to the ball.

 

It worked well enough, as Neuer safely neutralised any danger between him and his defence. But it is a risky strategy, relying on Neuer’s perfect timing and judgement. Had Algeria shown just marginally more quality in their passes or runs on the break, they surely would have scored.

Ghana scored twice against Germany in their group game and could have scored more, taking advantage of Germany’s defensive fragilities, using their pacey front line to break in behind. With some more ruthless finishing they could have beaten them.

Read more: Philipp Lahm divisions add to Germany ill feeling
Five reasons why France will beat Germany
Five reasons why Germany will beat France

France, of course, are a better team than Algeria or Ghana and are more likely to take advantage. As they showed in their thrilling 5-2 destruction of Switzerland in their second match, they are an excellent counter-attacking side. Karim Benzema, who should return to his preferred central role today, is in the form of his life, and has the pace to burst in behind.

Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi are both excellent runners in midfield, dangerous in the final third, and capable of making Germany pay for their lack of a natural holding midfielder. Löw has copied Pep Guardiola’s example and used Philipp Lahm in front of his back four, because there is no one else to do that job, but even then there is precious little protection for the centre-backs.

Toni Kroos is not especially enamoured with defensive work, while Bastian Schweinsteiger is – like Steven Gerrard – slightly too enthusiastic for his own good when it comes to shutting off counter-attacks. The threat of French midfield runners storming past them is very real.

Germany did not always play this way. Their two great performances in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, beating England 4-1 in the last 16 and Argentina 4-0 in the quarter-finals were achieved playing counter-attacking football, sitting back and hitting two unbalanced teams on the break. They tried to do that against Spain in their semi-final but could not escape the relentless pressure applied by a team at the top of their game.

Germany have a brilliant front three, with ammunition supplied by Kroos, and could certainly out-play France this afternoon. If Mats Hummels is fit to return to centre-back, then Germany will be more secure, allowing Jerome Boateng to move back to full-back.

But the warning signs have been clear. Lesser sides than France have rattled Germany already. Both teams know where this game might be won and lost.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little