As has been the trend in this tournament of goal-keepers, Vincent Enyeama made one spectacular save after another, but one mistake and Paul Pogba finally had the ball in the back of the net in the 79th minute. Another goal followed at the end and France had, convincingly or otherwise, sealed their place in the next round, defeating the Nigerians in the process.
Hoping to join the French, Algeria and Germany met, with wounds from the 1982 World Cup fresh in the Algerians minds. Back then, whispers of a fixed Austrian-German encounter had seen the Algerians eliminated. The game started and dragged on without goals and with the men between the sticks on both end performing on a pedestal above their best. Edging ever close to full time, eyes turned towards Mueller to conjure up his daily-dose of a miracle but it was not to be. It took the 2nd minute of extra time for Germany to finally muster up a goal, with Andre Schurrle notching the first, followed by a Mesut Ozil strike. Algeria, to their credit, struck at the very end of the game, but it was too little too late and Germany progressed 2-1. The Africans, though, played the game of their lives and many among us couldn't help but shed a tear when the stony-faced Vahid Halilhodzic broke down towards the end.
The drama from the day before has now set up a delicately poised battle for the semifinal berth between France and Germany, easily billed in the Clash of the Titans category. The teams have previously met thrice in World Cup, with Germany winning twice and losing once. However, it was the French, in 1958, who managed to seal the biggest win in a World Cup match against Germany, winning 6-3, with Just Fontaine running rampant with four goals. Unfortunately for Didier Deschamps' men, it is obvious that Karim Benzema is no Just Fontaine. With 24 goals in the last season and three goals in the World Cup, on top of 2 assists, Benzema may not be as good as Fontaine, but he is a dependable striker nonetheless. Germany's forward duties though, seem to change from game to game. Even then, most hopes will rest with Mueller.
The German machine worked as efficiently and clinically as it was supposed to against the crafty Algerians. Putting up road-blocks all over complemented by silky passes and darting runs, Joachim Loew's men exhausted the Algerians before delivering the fatal blow. With France, a similar strategy will be followed. The French team, have options as they have been in a scoring-spree of sorts, with Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena looking especially dangerous. Starting with Antoine Greizmann, Deschamps can take a leaf out of Halilhodzic's book and attack down Germany's suspect flank. Shkodran Mustafi and Benedikt Howedes have been prone to be caught in the wrong side of the field, with both offering more attacking verve than any defensive dependability.
Germany's saving grace can eventually turn out to be Manuel Neuer. Revolutionising the concept of goal-keeper, the best 'keeper in the tournament of 'keepers, the German plays more as a sweeper-keeper than anything else. Per Mertesacker's lack of pace is a reason behind the German shot-stopper rushing out every now and then, but that's also where he is at his weakest. France have a lot of long distance shooters and can easily capitalise on such a situation. For now though, history is on Germany's side. Breaking out of formation and being innovative as ever, it may be the second coming of the blitzkrieg.