Ger­many un­fazed, France have a ‘sta­tus to live up to’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

TI­TLE con­tenders Ger­many will come face to face with their ul­ti­mate tour­na­ment night­mare when they take on Italy in their Euro 2016 quar­ter-fi­nal in Bordeaux to­day.

The world cham­pi­ons have lost ev­ery sin­gle tour­na­ment knock­out game to the Ital­ians go­ing back al­most half-a-cen­tury, but are con­fi­dent they can end a streak that in­cludes one World Cup fi­nal and two semi-fi­nals and the Euro 2012 last four.

There are signs that it will be Ger­many’s turn to smile to­day, with the 2014 World Cup win­ners hav­ing yet to con­cede a goal in the tour­na­ment.

After top­ping Group C with two wins and a draw, they quickly dis­posed of Slo­vakia 3-0 in the round of 16 with an im­pres­sive per­for­mance in which their front­line burst into life after three be­low-par per­for­mances.

For­ward Mario Gomez, ini­tially left on the bench, has now struck once in each of their last two matches and looks set to spear­head their at­tack again.

“We know that ev­ery­thing will be de­manded from us,” said team man­ager Oliver Bier­hoff. “This is a new game, maybe the Ital­ians are even stronger than in 2012 and we have been warned.

“But the game will start from zero for both teams and the past does not in­ter­est us.”

Coach Joachim Low will have a full squad to choose from, with Jonas Hec­tor hav­ing re­cov­ered from the flu and cap­tain Bas­tian Sch­we­in­steiger fully fit after play­ing only a mi­nor role so far fol­low­ing a long-term in­jury.

“I feel Bas­tian is ready now. He be­longs to the play­ers that Low can now count on 100 per­cent,” Bier­hoff said.

An­to­nio Conte’s Italy lack the big names of the past, but were among four teams un­beaten in qual­i­fy­ing for the tour­na­ment and have kept their mo­men­tum go­ing in France, con­ced­ing just one goal in their four matches.

Their so-called three-man BBC de­fence, led by Gior­gio Chiellini play­ing along­side Ju­ven­tus team­mates An­drea Barza­gli and Leonardo Bonucci, has been key to their suc­cess.

“We have the Juve trio who guide us, they’ve not been win­ning for five years for noth­ing,” said fel­low de­fender Mat­tia De Sciglio.

Conte will likely be with­out mid­fielder Daniele De Rossi, who picked up a thigh in­jury in Mon­day’s 2-0 win over hold­ers Spain. Thi­ago Motta, his usual re­place­ment, is miss­ing through sus­pen­sion.

That is un­likely to de­ter the Ital­ians, ac­cord­ing to De Sciglio. “Conte would be on the pitch with us if he could be,” he said. “He has taught us to fight for ev­ery inch. Fight­ing for ev­ery ball is our strength as we do not pos­sess su­per­stars.”

● France right-back Bacary Sagna said he could not imag­ine the host na­tion would suf­fer the same fate as Eng­land when they face sur­prise pack­ages Ice­land to­mor­row for a place in the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship semi-fi­nals.

“I’m not think­ing about de­feat,” Sagna told a news con­fer­ence at France’s train­ing camp out­side Paris. “I’m not plan­ning to go on hol­i­days early. I want to go all the way.”

Sagna, who has played his club foot­ball in Eng­land for nearly a decade with Ar­se­nal and now Manch­ester City, said he had been sur­prised by Eng­land’s shock 2-1 de­feat by Ice­land in the last 16.

“I thought Eng­land would win be­cause they have a young team with plenty of tal­ent,” he said. “On the other hand, I was quite happy for Ice­land be­cause they played re­ally well. They taught Eng­land a les­son and de­serve to be where they are.”

The 33- year- old, who has won praise for con­vinc­ing dis­plays in the tour­na­ment, said he was con­fi­dent Les Bleus would sur­vive to­mor­row’s tricky test at the Stade de France.

“We cer­tainly do not un­der­es­ti­mate Ice­land but we be­long ( among) the best sides in Europe, we’re among the favourites and we’re at home,” he said.

“We have a sta­tus to live up to. When we see how the peo­ple in the fan zones cel­e­brate when we score a goal, it warms our hearts. We just can’t let them down.”

French Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Noel Le Graet has set a place in the last four as the goal for the host na­tion, mean­ing to­mor­row’s match will de­ter­mine whether the tour­na­ment is a suc­cess or a fail­ure for Les Blues.

“I don’t agree,” Sagna said. “To me, bow­ing out in the semi-fi­nals would still be a fail­ure. We all know what we’re here for.”

Sagna said that France, who started in slug­gish fash­ion, of­ten need­ing late ral­lies to pre­vail, must make sure they are fo­cused from the kick­off against Ice­land.

“We must not wait un­til half­time to wake up be­cause that might be too late,” he said. “We must be fully con­cen­trated from the start. I’m sure we will be. I’m not wor­ried.” – Reuters

BAS­TIAN SCH­WE­IN­STEIGER: Ready now

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