By Karolos Grohmann
France have surprised many by emerging as World Cup contenders but face their toughest test yet against nemesis Germany in a quarter-final clash of European heavyweights at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium on Friday.
For France coach Didier Deschamps the past, heart-rending World Cup semi-final defeats to the Germans in 1982 and 1986 do not matter at all.
But with French media splashing the word “Angstgegner”, the German word for bogey team, across their front pages and broadcasts, Deschamps must conquer the fears of an entire nation if he is to restore his country’s World Cup eminence.
France, who have scored 10 goals in four matches in Brazil, have already gone a long way to restoring some pride after their hapless first round exit in 2010.
Reaching the last eight with solid teamwork has already done much to rebuild their image but facing the Germans in a knockout game is motivation in itself.
They have only excruciating memories of their last two World Cup battles against them, losing a nerve-racking semi-final in 1982 in Spain.
After scoring twice to lead 3-1 in extra time they conceded two goals and crashed out on penalties in what has become known as ‘Seville ’82’.
Germany keeper Toni Schumacher’s reckless challenge on France’s Patrick Battiston which left the player with broken ribs, an injured vertebrae and shattered teeth, further added to the bitterness of that loss.
Four years later it was again the Germans who killed off their world Cup dreams with a 2-0 victory in Mexico.
Deschamps has refused to talk to his players about those games, instead saying, “if my players were not born then, they were not born then. What’s the point talking about it.
“We must not let our confidence turn into arrogance,” he told reporters. “Players have the right to dream. Everyone can dream. But I am generally a pragmatic and realistic man. We can dream but the reality is Germany on Friday.”
“The Germans’ results in the past few tournaments have been superior to ours,” added the 45-year-old, who has never lost a game at a World Cup both as a player and as a coach, but is more than happy to pass the favourites tag to his opponents.
For Germany, it has been 24 years since their third and most recent World Cup crown.
They have come close in the past two tournaments, reaching the last four but stumbled at the penultimate hurdle.
After a laboured extra time 2-1 win over Algeria in the round of 16, the Germans are facing mounting pressure from their fans, desperate to see an end of their title drought.
“You get games like that in a tournament and you just have to battle your way through,” said Germany coach Joachim Loew. “In a tournament you cannot always play fantastic football.”
A question mark hangs over Loew’s shaky defence and how it will react to its biggest test so far in the tournament, with France’s Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann posing a far bigger threat than the Desert foxes attack.
“We have to do it better against France,” Loew warned, insisting captain Philipp Lahm would not slip back from midfield into his traditional full back position, where he rose to become one of the best in the world, despite his defence’s obvious weaknesses.
“I have taken my decisions, including the role of Lahm and I will stick to those until the very end,” said Loew.