Today was the second straight day with no World Cup games to watch. I decided to fill the void with para-sailing. Several friends and colleagues who have been to Rio De Janeiro recommended this activity to me, so I figured I had to give it a try. There are a few draw-backs (it’s fairly expensive, there is a long wait until the wind is just right, and the cab ride home in traffic took almost 2 hours) but the view from up in the parachute was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. It’s crazy how small you feel when you look down and can literally see the “end” of the earth where it curves out of your line of sight. Highly recommended to anyone in Rio now or ever planning on visiting.
Tomorrow is the day I have been waiting for all trip – I get to watch France vs. Germany in the World Cup Quarter Final! In my blog today, I will discuss how I think this game – the 4th edition of a classic World Cup match-up – will go. In the last few World Cups, the German team has followed a very similar pattern. They typically open the tournament with a high-scoring, dominant performance, only to become a bit more conservative (or efficient) as the tournament wears on. France, on the other hand, has been very inconsistent, winning in 1998 and reaching the final in 2006, sandwiching two group stage exits in 2002 and 2010. This year, I believe the game will be a battle between the popular possession-based “tika-taka” style that won Spain the 2010 World Cup (and the 2008/2012 Euro Cups), played by Germany, and the newer, counter-attacking style characterized by defending deeper and attacking on the break with speed and efficiency, played by France (and also by Holland, Colombia, and Costa Rica).
The French in this tournament have been the third best team in terms of “scoring efficiency”, with an average of 2.5 goals per game on only 54% ball possession.
Germany, on the other hand, has used a very high line when defending, trying hard to win the ball in the middle of the pitch and not allow their opponents to settle in the last 3rd. They have become a possession-oriented team, and thus far have had the best passing accuracy of any team in the tournament (attempting 3060 passes and converting 84% of them). This leaves them exposed to counter-attacking teams, as was evident in their tough Round of 16 match against a determined, well-organized Algerian team. Adding to the risk for the Germans is that their centre backs, Matts Hummels and Per Mertesacker, are both slow players who lack the speed to catch up with some of the faster strikers in the France team. The German defense was not really tested against Portugal, but Ghana was able to exploit their deficiencies and score 2 goals, and as mentioned Algeria were able to create chances on the break as well. France, with star attacking players possessing lots of pace such as Paul Pogba, and Mathieu Valbuena, should be able to provide the most stern test the Germans have faced in this tournament.
The advantage that Germany will have in trying to defend the counter-attack of the French is their goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer. More than any other keeper at the World Cup, Neuer has been active as a “sweeper”, stopping opposing counter-attacks before they turn into shots on target. In the game against Nigeria, Neuer accumulated 21 touches of the ball outside his box. To put this number into perspective, goalkeepers typically average less than 10 outside-the-box touches per game, and in this World Cup the average thus far has been only 8 per game. If France are to be successful, they will have to avoid the German off-side trap, and Neuer, so the best option for them will likely be to try to counter with diagonal passes, splitting the centre back and full back and keeping the ball closer to the corner and away from the German goalkeeper.
In my opinion, I believe Germany will keep enough of the ball to tire out the French, and limit the effectiveness of their countering. If I had to guess, I would say that Thomas Muller will re-gain his scoring touch, and the game will be decided by his fifth goal of the tournament. We will have to wait and see what happens tomorrow afternoon.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.