RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – When Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer embarked on a series of hair-raising dashes out of his area in the second-round victory over Algeria, it would have struck a chord with French soccer 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 Friday. It will be their fourth meeting on soccer’s biggest stage, with Germany also winning the most recent head-to-head in 1986 in the semifinals.
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“Tomorrow we will write a new page of history,” France coach Didier Deschamps said when asked about the hurt of 1982 and 1986. “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 the country’s players weren’t alive when that game took place.
“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. But there is a growing feeling a young and dynamic France team has a decent chance to bring down its more experienced opponent.
With Germany’s defense stretched — and sometimes shambolic — this tournament, that is a department the French will aim to exploit at Rio’s Maracana stadium.
Ponderous and porous, the German back line features center backs playing as fullbacks. It allowed Algeria’s speedy forwards to cause havoc in a round-of-16 match Germany won 2-1 in extra time. That is 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.”
Deschamps will likely be wrestling with two selection dilemmas ahead of the match, chiefly which player to partner with Karim Benzema in attack out of Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann.
There is also the question of who plays alongside Raphael Varane at center back out of Laurent Koscielny and Mamadou Sakho, 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.
And expect Neuer to continue making appearances outside the penalty area as well as inside, just as 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.”