by Sebastian Li
On the 4th of July, European powerhouse teams France and Germany will meet in the Estadio do Maracana of Rio de Janeiro. Germany came into the tournament highly ranked at 2nd. The French team, on the other hand, came in ranked by FIFA as the 17th best team, below the United States. Looking at the past history of these two teams might explain the gap in rankings.
Since the 2006 World Cup, in which they finished 2nd after the infamous Zinedine Zidane headbutt, France has struggled to get results on the field. In the 2008 UEFA European Cup as well as the 2010 World Cup, they were eliminated in the group stages without even winning a game. Their 2010 World Cup campaign was also marred by a refusal to practice as a result of Nicolas Anelka’s exclusion from the team after he launched a verbal assault on then coach Raymond Domenech. In Euro 2012, France was eliminated by eventual champions Spain in the quarterfinal.
In the present day, with top-seeded Spain eliminated from the group stage, the rankings that FIFA publishes have never mattered less. The game on Independence Day will likely be a closely contested one, as both sides play an open, attacking game. For a more numerical breakdown of this game, let’s see how the salaries of these two teams stack up. Keep in mind, these are estimates of the projected starting eleven’s annual wages, without endorsements or other income, before taxes.
Unlike his predecessors, current manager Didier Deschamps has managed to prevent the talented players on his roster from revolting thus far. Essentially every single name on the roster is an exciting one. Yohan Cabaye is a creative force if he has the ball in the attacking third. Lloris’ services cost Tottenham a transfer fee to Lyon worth over $20 million in 2012: a sum the London-based club was delighted to pay. While Giroud has been a bit of a disappointment for Arsenal, he has always been skilled at linking play between midfield and attack.
In Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba, the French have two of the most promising young players in the world representing their nation. Varane, a big and athletic central defender, just made his debut on the World Cup stage this year. In Pogba, France has 2013’s winner of the Golden Boy award, a yearly award given to a player under the age of 21 who has excelled in a top European league. Previous winners include the likes of Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero, Cesc Fabregas, and Lionel Messi. In short, Pogba has already had an enviable career at the young age of 21 (watch the video).
But it’s not just the younger players bringing talent to this team. Karim Benzema is an absolute monster of a forward, sometimes bullying smaller defenders for the ball, and other times using his skill to finesse his way to the front of the goal. Valbuena is one of the trickier players in the tournament at this point, and keep an eye out for the threatening forward runs of both outside fullbacks, Evra and Debuchy. So how do they match up against this year’s German squad?
In terms of the raw numbers, Germany has a serious advantage here. The Germans earn about $15 million more than the French. Many of the German players also play for Bayern Munich, and have grown accustomed to playing alongside one another throughout the year. The fact that such a significant number of Germans play together year round may have something to do with how seamlessly the German attack functions. On the other hand, the French attackers have had a bit harder time working alongside one another. For example, both Olivier Giroud and Benzema tend to function better as the lone striker in attack, despite still playing different styles. While Benzema prefers to attack his defenders more directly, Giroud plays more with his back to the goal waiting to involve his teammates in the attack.
The most interesting part of Germany’s roster, for me, is their seeming lack of outside fullbacks. Benedikt Howedes, a natural central defender, has been playing out of position at left back. Meanwhile, the right defensive role has changed owners repeatedly throughout the tournament, with Jerome Boateng, Per Mertesacker, and recently injured Shkodran Mustafi each trying their hand thus far. Phillip Lahm is the most likely candidate for a natural outside defender, but in recent years he’s effectively been converted into a calming presence as a holding midfielder. The most glaring problem with Germany’s defense, as a result, is their lack of speed. This is most apparent when Germany defends a counter-attack, as the defenders also have the aggressive habit of creeping forward.
Ultimately, there are a couple of players that are likely to play a large role in the upcoming game. First and foremost, Mats Hummels will have the burden of covering up in case his outside defenders get caught too high in the attack. Mathieu Valbuena could be a serious catalyst in a French victory, if he uses his pace and skill to his advantages on the wings. An interesting point of the match will be to see if Mertesacker, notoriously slow-moving, will be positioned as Valbuena’s opposite. This possibility has some very negative implications for Germany.
According to the Vegas odds, the likely result of this game is a German victory. After all, their attack runs smoothly and for me, is reminiscent of Pep Guardialo’s Barcelona from several years ago. While France boasts one of the strongest defenses remaining in the tournament, both outside defenders love to join the attack through overlapping runs. This game will come down to which side defends better, as there is more than enough attacking talent on both sides. The Germans are likely to create a couple more chances in their attacking third, but will also leave themselves vulnerable to counter-attacks. In the French, they face a team that is more than capable of capitalizing on such opportunities and punishing their opposition. Despite an apparent difference in salaries between the two teams, the game between France and Germany will likely be a very contested game.