Day 18 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup features two teams that have impressed a lot of people thus far in the tournament: Germany and France.
Germany faces Algeria, while France takes on Nigeria. Both opponents hail from Africa, the only two that qualified past the group stage. They’ll face stern tests, but this World Cup has seen plenty of upsets already, and the Europeans sides have had their share of collapses the last few years.
Here are four keys for Day 18…
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Was France’s showing vs. Ecuador a one-off?
France only needed a draw against Ecuador to clinch top spot in Group E, which is what they got after tying 0-0. However, Les Bleus had 21 shots and failed to muster a goal.
Ecuador’s goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez made nine saves, while his outfield players blocked five additional attempts. France manager Didier Deschamps also rested Raphael Varane, Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Valbuena, Mathieu Debuchy, and Patrice Evra.
Mamadou Sakho and Blaise Matuidi picked up knocks in that match, so Deschamps did not want to take any risks. Clearly France was playing to limit the damage, what with Varane also suffering from an illness prior to the match as well.
France should be able to bounce back and play like the favourites they’re tipped to be in the game.
Nigeria’s questionable defending
Through Nigeria’s first two games, their defence was hardly tested. Edin Dzeko’s incorrectly called offside goal and his shot off the post in stoppage were the only attempts by Bosnia that troubled the Nigerian backline.
However, against Argentina, it was exposed several times. That happens with Lionel Messi on the pitch, but he and several others showed that the Super Eagles are susceptible to counter attacks, set pieces, and pacey players.
France has a lot of variety in midfield that can trouble Nigeria, plus Karim Benzema who is strong in the air and has excellent finishing abilities. Stephen Keshi’s side could be in for another long afternoon unless they can get some help at the back from the midfield.
Sami Khedira or Bastian Schweinsteiger?
Germany manager Joachim Low made a notable change to the midfield for the United States match. Sami Khedira, who was struggling with serious injuries this past season, was replaced by Bastian Schweinsteiger, who’s also had fitness issues the last few years.
However, the Bayern Munich stalwart delivered an admirable performance against the United States. He was contributing defensively to break up the oncoming American counter-attacks and completed 88 percent of the 86 passes he attempted.
It’s clear that when Schweinsteiger is fit, Germany is a much different side, even if he’s approaching 30. Low may have to start the Bayern midfielder as Khedira has looked slow and out of sorts during the tournament.
Algeria must target the German fullbacks
The United States was smart with their attacks against Germany. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann obviously recognized that the Germans had Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Howedes, both centre-halves, slot in as fullback. They struggled to cope whenever the play extended to the flanks.
Algeria has excelled on the wings during the World Cup. Islam Slimani has been arguably the best player for the North Africans thus far, as he’s taken advantage of some poor, slow defending from his opponents.
Joachim Low better be aware of that danger, because Boateng especially looked lost at times versus the US. Howedes has been slightly better, but Algeria would be smart to try and utilize both flanks and not just their left. That could be the route to victory against what is a powerful German side.