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Neil Humphreys
Friday, Jul 4, 2014

Sports

Improve or implode

The New Paper | Neil Humphreys | Friday, Jul 4, 2014

SUB-STANDARD SHOWING: Germany (in white) need to step up their game against France, after requiring extra-time to beat Algeria (in green) yesterday.

ROUND OF 16

GERMANY 2

(Andre Schuerrle 92, Mesut Oezil 120)

ALGERIA 1

(Abdelmoumene Djabou 120+1)

Germany's luck will not hold a second time. The Teutonic battlers tiptoed into the last eight to set up an all-European quarter-final. But form favours the French.

Joachim Loew's men laboured in Porto Alegre yesterday morning (Singapore time). Conditions were conducive, but their pace proved pedestrian in the cool, breezy conditions.

Algeria displayed the greater urgency until exhaustion consumed them as Germany struggled to find second gear.

Late personnel changes understandably disrupted their rhythm, but their inability to shake off the athletic Africans will concern Loew more.

Mats Hummels' flu robbed him of a place in the starting line-up, but it also, rather inexplicably, denied Germany their attacking momentum. Loew must bank on his trusted centre back shaking off the sniffles by the quarter-final because the pack shuffling produced a couple of jokers.

Jerome Boateng and Per Mertesacker will not terrify Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud. They didn't particularly worry the Algerians.

Shkodran Mustafi was obviously a stop-gap at right back and, unfortunately, his inexperience was exposed by the lively Faouzi Ghoulam.

If Benzema drifts out to the left, where he has been the most effective for Les Bleus of late, France will forage for fun. Germany's defensive vulnerability dragged Philipp Lahm into someone else's fight.

At times against Algeria, he operated as a third centre back, a role the intelligent, instinctive footballer can perform easily enough, but it tempered his attacking tendencies.

Germany's cumbersome passing around the centre circle was due in large part to their midfielder moonlighting in central defence.

Without their refined conductor, they were off-key and out of time.

INTUITION

Lahm's intuitive reading of the game will be better served monitoring Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi, rather than grabbing a bucket and carrying out menial mopping duties to clean up the mess made by others.

Loew may also consider dropping Lahm back into his more familiar right-back role if Hummels fails to recover.

When Sami Khedira was introduced and Lahm slotted into defence, Germany stabilised at the back and in the middle and pushed for a winner in the final third.

With Khedira in front and Lahm at the side, the dithering duo in front of Manuel Neuer had a protective shield around them. Building from a more stable platform, Germany finally took the game to the Africans.

But Mario Goetze and Mesut Oezil remained alarmingly off the pace. Goetze was anonymous and wisely replaced at half-time for the goal-scoring Andre Schuerrle; struggling with a dip of form so rapid one can only hope that Hummels' flu has spread through the dressing room.

Oezil was similarly lacklustre, his listlessness an unfortunate hangover from the group stages.

To his credit, he grew as the game stretched into injury time and picked away at the wilting Algerians with the persistence of a voracious vulture.

But the Africans were declining, cramping and collapsing. Loew will encourage Oezil to treat the fitter, rested French with similar disdain, rather than save his creative outbursts for exhausted opponents in extra time.

If the wide men begin in a similarly laboured fashion in Rio, they'll be ruthlessly exposed inside the cavernous Maracana.

Germany have less than a week to plug the defensive gaps and rediscover their pace or French flags will fly in the final four.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 02, 2014.
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