Toni Kroos reflected the confidence within the German ranks when he declared that his country had a better team than France and it was merely a matter of proving it in the quarter-final tie at the Maracanã.
The Bayern Munich midfielder, who refused to comment on reports linking him with a transfer to Real Madrid after the World Cup, believes that the game will be won or lost in midfield. However, he was rather more keen to advance the prospect of the former.
“France have a very strong midfield but if all of us deliver our best performance, then I believe we are the better team,” Kroos said. “But we have to show that. It’s going to be very important for us to have possession and to win the duels. Then, I believe we will really have a good opportunity to win.”
There has been plenty of discussion about how Joachim Löw, the Germany coach, ought to construct his midfield, with there being a lobby against him starting Philipp Lahm in the area. Many supporters feel that Lahm ought to play at right-back.
But Löw is expected to persist with him as the holding midfielder, flanked by Kroos and either Bastian Schweinsteiger or Sami Khedira, both of whom, he said, were fully fit. When the discussion turned to the goalkeeper-cum-sweeper, Manuel Neuer, Löw described him as such a “perfect footballer” that he, too, could play in midfield.
What stood out was the German conviction. Löw said that seven of his squad had reported sore throats and there was the worry that the symptoms could develop into fever, as it had done with the defender Mats Hummels, which ruled him out of the last-16 win over Algeria. But everybody was fit to train, apart from the injured defender Shkodran Mustafi, and Hummels is primed to return. Löw said that the best from his team was yet to come while Kroos, who defended his midfield team-mate Mesut Özil against the criticism of his performances, shrugged off the pressure, which intensified after the largely unconvincing win over Algeria. Not unusually, Löw’s prospects in the job have come under scrutiny.
“Pressure is nothing new for us,” Kroos said. “It is there because we are good players and we have a top team. The expectations are high. Everybody wants us to win and anything else would be a failure. We have shown we can cope.”
The rhetoric from the France squad was characterised by defiance, with the manager, Didier Deschamps, and the captain, Hugo Lloris, parroting the line about having no fear, together with the one about writing a new and more “pleasant” chapter in the nation’s history.
France’s starting point at this World Cup had felt low, after the trauma of South Africa in 2010 but the squad have enjoyed their football, which has been cohesive and urgent, and they have enjoyed proving a few points. Momentum has built.
“November 19,” Deschamps said, when asked to identify the moment when the team’s fortunes turned. It was the date of the qualification play-off second-leg against Ukraine, when they won 3-0 in Paris to progress 3-2 on aggregate.
“That’s what changed everything,” Deschamps said. “The story of myself, the players and the staff changed totally after November 19.”
Both squads trained on the Maracana pitch on Thursday, and Deschamps described it as being “dry” and having “suffered” because of the number of matches that have been played on it. Hiskey selection decision is over whether to start with the brawn of Olivier Giroud or Antoine Griezmann’s trickery. He is expected to prefer the latter.
“When you advance, things become more complicated and the German team is another step up,” Deschamps said. “They like possession, to impose a certain rhythm and they have a lot of experience at this stage of tournaments. They are more demanding opponents and we will have to adapt.”