France v Germany: Les Bleus dare to dream

France’s young upstarts take on a seasoned and wily German side in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Rio di Janeiro on Friday, quietly confident they can pull off an upset. Their fans back home hope their team can exorcise some ghosts of World Cups past.

France v Germany: Les Bleus dare to dream
French striker Karim Benzema and Germany's Thomas Müller. Who will come out on top? Photo: AFP

The build up to Friday night's eagerly-awaited clash between France and Germany in the fabled Maracana stadium has all been about the past.

Images of France’s two previous World Cup meetings with the then West Germany in 1982 and 1986 have been all over French websites and TV screens in the days preceeding Friday’s quarter-final clash in Rio.

Both of those encounters ended in bitter defeat for Les Bleus, particularly the 1982 semi-final, which the French lost on penalties, after leading the Germans 3-1 in extra-time. That game was written into football folklore thanks to German goalie Harald Schumacher wiping out French player Patrick Battistion. The outrage that caused, has also not been forgotten in France, at least among the media and older fans.

Although French coach Didier Deschamps has played down any talk of revenge, the French fans back home clearly want to get even.

And there is optimism they can do it, even against a German team that has reached the semi-finals in the last three World Cups and seem to be able to navigate their way through to the latter stages almost blind-folded.

Despite his foes’ tournament know-how, Deschamps said his young side will play without fear.

"There is no apprehension or fear. There is no reason for us to feel any. Germany are a solid side with lots of experience of this level but this game will be a pleasure for us and we are preparing ourselves as well as possible for it," Deschamps told a press conference in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday.

 Deschamps admits that after facing Honduras, Switzerland, Ecuador and Nigerian, Germany are clearly the strongest side they have faced yet at these finals.

"We have no pressure on us, just excitement at being able to play a World Cup quarter-final. We will have a new page of our history to write and we will try to make sure it is a beautiful one."

The fans back home and the French media, just like Deschamps’ team are confident they can pull off an upset in Rio.

France are unbeaten in the tournament so far and have netted ten goals, including five against Switzerland in the group match. With striker Karim Benzema in top form, midfielder Paul Pogba coming in to form and Mathieu Valbuena pulling the strings, France are dreaming of their first WorldCup title since their 1998 triumph on home soil.

While they eased their way past Nigeria in the last 16 with a 2-0 win, the Germans needed extra-time to see off a fearless Algerian side in their own knock-out clash, which they won 2-1.

France will have taken lessons from the way Algeria attacked Germany in numbers and will take hope from the numerous chances created by the Desert Foxes against a creaking German backline.

"We have to keep doing what we have done well until now but the demands nowwill be greater and we need to be capable of dealing with that too,” Deschamps said.

Meanwhile, goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris urged Les Bleus to seize their chance, mindful perhaps of France's last appearance at this stage of a major tournament.

At the 2012 European Championships, with Laurent Blanc in charge, Francewere outclassed by Spain in the quarter-finals, and they have not reached the last four of any competition since the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

"Everyone is excited. We will play our game and do everything to come outof the match with as few regrets as possible," said Lloris.

"There may be moments where they put us under pressure but we are capable of posing them problems too."

For his part German coach Joachim Loew had a warning for France that his team’s best football was yet to come.

"We have not yet delivered our best possible performances, that is to comestill," Loew told a press conference here Thursday.

"This isn't some easy-to-figure out computer game and your own team isn't always easy to programme, but you have to find the right combinations.

"You either win and stay or lose and go home."

The contrast in how the two team’s World Cup performances have been greeted back home is marked.

While France has received plaudits for their performances and for restoring pride in a team that was blasted after players went on strike atthe World Cup in South Africa four years ago, the Germans have come in for criticism for the way they have played.

Former captains Michael Ballack, Oliver Kahn and Lothar Matthaeus have all questioned Loew's selections with playmaker Mesut Ozil struggling and centre-backs Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Hoewedes being played out of position as wing-backs.

Loew has a contract with the German FA (DFB) until June 2016, but aquarter-final exit will put him under pressure to resign despite steering his side to the semi-finals of the last three major tournaments.

Perhaps the German’s best chances of success might be in taking the game to a penalty shoot-out. They have never lost a shoot-out in World Cup history. France are confident it won't get that far.

Team News:

Germany should have centre-back Mats Hummels back after missing the Algeriawin with flu, while Lukas Podolski is fit again after a thigh strain.

There is a question mark over France defender Raphael Varane, who spent thenight in hospital with dehydration after Monday's 2-0 win over Nigeria in the last 16.

Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho is fit again after knee problems, while itremains to be seen who Deschamps names as striker between Olivier Giroud or Antoine Griezmann.

Likely French team: Lloris (cap) – Debuchy, Varane, Sakho, Evra – Pogba, Cabaye, Matuidi – Valbuena, Griezmann, Benzema

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France plans to keep growing women’s game after World Cup disappointment

France faces the challenge of continuing to develop women's football after the bitter disappointment of elimination from the World Cup by the United States.

France plans to keep growing women's game after World Cup disappointment
France players after the defeat against USA. Photo: AFP

“Back to Earth” was how sports daily L'Equipe put it after the host nation lost 2-1 to the holders in a quarter-final played out before a feverish crowd in Paris.

L'Equipe talked of “the disappointment of a shattered adventure” because coach Corinne Diacre's team had dreamt of emulating the men, World Cup winners in Russia last year and also winners as hosts in 1998.

The team had been desperate to make it to Lyon, where the semi-finals and final will be played and where seven of those who featured for France on Friday play their club football for Europe's top side.

Instead, France find themselves out of a fifth straight major tournament in the quarter-finals. To rub salt into the wounds, Friday's defeat had the knock-on effect of denying them a place at next year's Olympics.

Diacre had been set the objective of reaching the final, which always looked a daunting challenge once the draw raised the likelihood of an early meeting with the USA.

Amid the dejection on Friday, Diacre stated her wish to continue, and on Saturday French Football Federation (FFF) President Noel Le Graet confirmed she would stay.

“She will be in charge until the end of her contract, if not longer,” Le Graet told AFP.

That means until Euro 2021 in England at least, and the aim in France is to keep developing the women's game to give them a chance of one day going all the way.

The FFF hope the number of registered female players will reach 200,000 next year, an increase of almost 10 percent from present figures, but far from the two million registered male players.

They have also promised to invest 15 million euros into a post-World Cup “legacy” fund.

The interest in the women's game is there, as shown by television audiences during the World Cup, with 11.8 million watching the USA game on terrestrial TV.

However, translating that to an increased following in the women's domestic league will be a bigger challenge.

France games have drawn sell-out crowds at the World Cup, but in general attendances in domestic competition are modest at best, even if almost 26,000 saw powerhouses Lyon beat closest rivals Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year.

“We cannot go from so much enthusiasm now to league matches on poor pitches with only 120 fans,” said Le Graet. “We all need to make an effort and we will.”

Matches are televised, but like elsewhere income remains light years from rights deals in the men's game — a new sponsorship contract for the 12-club top flight with chemicals company Arkema is worth one million euros per season for three years.

Average salaries are reportedly around 3,500 euros per month, although stars like Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard are believed to earn almost 10 times that at Lyon, who have won the Champions League in the last four years. Again, those sums are dwarfed by the wages often on offer to the men.

“We need to keep putting money in, keep professionalising, because other countries are doing it and maybe that's why they are ahead of us,” warned Lyon and France forward Eugenie Le Sommer.

“We have a good league but unfortunately not every team is professional.

“There are countries who are ahead of us and we must catch up. Even Spain are putting lots of money in and we need to make sure we are not left behind.”

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