Rio De Janeiro – Ahead of Friday’s World Cup quarter-final between France and Germany at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, AFP Sport looks at some of the key on-pitch battles that could decide the game.
Karim Benzema v Per Mertesacker
Karim Benzema leads a French attack that has impressed at this World Cup, scoring 10 goals in four games.
The Real Madrid player has scored three himself and has mustered more shots on goal than anyone else at the competition – his tally of 25 compares to just 15 for each of Neymar, Lionel Messi and James Rodriguez.
France only came good in their last-16 win over Nigeria when Benzema moved back into the middle, and from there his pace is a potentially lethal weapon against Germany, particularly compared to the sluggish Mertesacker.
Indeed, Germany’s defence was frequently caught too high up the pitch in the last 16 against Algeria, obliging goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to come racing out of his box and mop up the danger.
Benzema is more likely to punish them than Algeria’s Islam Slimani, though.
Mathieu Valbuena v Erik Durm
The diminutive Valbuena is one of the first names on France coach Didier Deschamps’ teamsheet, having previously played under him at Marseille.
He starts from a position wide on the right but drifts inside to a central position to create danger, as he did to good effect against Nigeria.
That can make him difficult to pick up, but Valbuena will have to wait to discover who his direct opponent is.
Germany coach Joachim Loew has deployed Benedikt Hoewedes, traditionally a central defender, at left-back in all four games so far.
However, this time, the athletic Jerome Boateng could move across or, alternatively, Borussia Dortmund’s Erik Durm could come in.
Converted from a striker into a defender, the 22-year-old Durm has so far won just the one cap, in last month’s friendly against Cameroon.
Yohan Cabaye v Toni Kroos
The battle for control of the midfield at the Maracana will be fascinating. Germany have completed more passes than anyone else at this World Cup and much of their play goes through Bayern Munich man Kroos.
He has completed 354 passes in four games so far, the most of any player in the tournment with the exception of Argentina’s Javier Mascherano.
If France are to successfully wrestle control away from their opponents, Yohan Cabaye will have to step forward.
Cabaye offers composure and a great range of passing from deep in midfield, and with the protection of Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi, is capable of running the game.
Mamadou Sakho v Thomas Mueller
Sakho is set to return to the French defence after missing last Monday’s win against Nigeria.
He offers athleticism and raw power, sometimes overstepping the mark, as his apparent elbow on Oswaldo Minda against Ecuador suggested.
However, he should have his hands full coping with Mueller, whose runs into the penalty area can be notoriously difficult to track.
Mueller has scored four goals and set up two more at this World Cup and has covered more ground than any other player at the competition.
France coach Deschamps will have emphasised the importance of keeping a close eye on the Bayern Munich man.
Hugo Lloris v Manuel Neuer
Lloris and Neuer are two of the finest goalkeepers of their generation, both acting as inspirational figures between the posts.
Deschamps rated Lloris highly enough to make the agile and brilliant shot-stopper his captain.
Meanwhile, Lloris himself has described Neuer as “the most complete goalkeeper in the world”, lauding his ability to race out of his area and perform the role of sweeper when required.
Both men are potential matchwinners.