Fifa World Cup quarterfinals: 'Best still to come'
The best is yet to come from Germany. That was the promise, at least, from coach Joachim Loew ahead of Saturday's World Cup quarterfinal against France at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
While Germany looked impressive in a 4-0 win over Portugal in its opening match, the three-time champion struggled in its next games, being held to a 2-2 draw by Ghana, edging the United States 1-0 and needing extra time to beat Algeria 2-1 in the round of 16.
Still, Germany is contesting its ninth straight World Cup quarterfinal.
''We have not yet delivered our best possible performance,'' Loew said.
''But I don't think anyone has reached their absolute top performance yet.
''It's not a computer game that is easily figured out - you can't easily figure out your opponent and it's not easy to programme your own team. Mistakes are made. And then there are other elements from beyond the pitch.''
One such element has struck Germany this week with seven players struggling with illness.
''One-third of our squad has been complaining about a sore throat,'' Loew said.
''But yesterday and today all players have been training and none were feeling exhaustion. I just hope that stays stable until tomorrow.''
Germany played its group matches in the warmer, northeastern climates of Salvador, Fortaleza and Recife then faced Algeria in the second round in cool and damp conditions in the southern city of Porto Alegre.
''Perhaps they got contaminated from others, or maybe it was the difference in temperatures, or the air conditioning,'' Loew said.
When Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer embarked on a series of hair-raising dashes out of his area in the second-round win over Algeria, it would have struck a chord with French football fans of a certain vintage.
Thoughts no doubt returned to one of the most shocking collisions in World Cup history, which occurred in the 1982 semifinal between West Germany and France and involved another goalkeeper's excursion off his line.
Harald Schumacher's airborne challenge on Patrick Battiston, which knocked the France defender unconscious and broke his jaw, but went unpunished, still raises anger and emotion in France - particularly as West Germany went on to win that match in a penalty shootout thanks to the saves of Schumacher.
Predictably, the incident has been one of the major talking points ahead of the countries' clash in the World Cup quarterfinals.
It will be their fourth meeting on football's biggest stage, with Germany also winning the most recent head-to-head in 1986 in the semifinals.
''Tomorrow we will write a new page of history,'' Deschamps said when asked about the hurt of 1982 and '86. ''We will try to make it as pleasant as possible.''
Under the headline of ''A Classic Match,'' top-selling French sports newspaper L'Equipe used its front page Wednesday to detail the step-by-step process of Schumacher's aerial collision with Battiston.
Clearly, the episode hasn't been forgotten in France, but many of country's players weren't even born when that game took place. And they aren't using it as motivation.
''As far as we are concerned, we live in the present,'' France's 26-year-old goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said.
''There is a long history between both nations, but we will concentrate on our own match and we want to write our own history.''
Germany is playing in the quarterfinals for a ninth straight World Cup and also reached at least the semifinals of the last two European Championships. But there is a growing feeling that a young and dynamic France team can bring down its more experienced opponent.
Germany centre back Mats Hummels missed the Algeria game due to illness, but Loew indicated he'll be back against France.
Likewise, midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger is expected to return from severe cramps after being substituted against Algeria.
The only Germany player ruled out is defender Shkodran Mustafi, who will miss the rest of the tournament with a left hamstring injury.
Against Algeria, Germany struggled when it lost possession and Algeria put together swift counterattacks.
''I think this kind of match is decided in midfield. If we can dominate there it will say a lot in terms of achieving a positive result,'' midfielder Toni Kroos said.
''Our style of play is to keep the ball on the ground and we have many players that are very good at that. We need to have more precise passes and have better concentration. That's our match philosophy.''
France hope to exploit an often stretched - and at this tournament sometimes shambolic - German defence.
Ponderous and porous, the German back line also features centre backs playing as full backs, which allowed Algeria's speedy forwards to cause havoc in the round of 16 match that Germany won 2-1 in extra time.
That's why Neuer was called on so many times to race out of his area and play the ''sweeper'' role, rescuing his defenders.
''There were some matches that were a bit more complicated,'' Deschamps said of Germany, also referring to the group-stage 2-2 draw with Ghana.
''But this is a very solid team, very calm, with strong individual players. They like ball possession. To impose a certain rhythm, a certain style of play.
''I have a lot of respect for Germany,'' Deschamps added.
''The team is at a higher level, at least on paper.''
Deschamps will likely be wrestling with two selection dilemmas ahead of the match, chiefly who to partner with Karim Benzema in attack out of Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann.
Giroud has height and presence, but Griezmann offers guile and craft and they might be the qualities that will give the Germany defense more problems.
Griezmann's game-changing substitute appearance in France's 2-0 win over Nigeria in the second round could well influence Deschamps' thinking.
There is also the question of who plays alongside Raphael Varane at centre back out of Laurent Koscielny and Mamadou Sakho, the vice-captain who is fit again after a left hamstring injury.
If the French progress past the quarterfinals, they will have done better than most pundits would have predicted, especially with Deschamps having revamped the team in his two years in charge.
Though expectations have been raised back in France, there will be more pressure on Germany.
''We are not afraid of anything,'' Lloris said.
''We are fully aware of the fact that in one match, just about anything is possible. There is no fear - (just) real pleasure, sheer joy, to be playing Germany in the quarterfinals.''
And expect Neuer to continue making appearances outside the penalty area as well as inside, just like Schumacher did 32 years ago.
''Neuer has the same technical skills as the others - he can play in midfield,'' Germany coach Joachim Loew said.
''He has great orientation, that's why we are happy for him to take some risks.''
While France is aiming to exceed expectations, Germany had loftier goals from the start.
''They want us to get the title,'' Kroos said.
''Anything else will be (considered) a defeat.''