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The World Cup last 16 threatened so much but produced so little in the way of shocks. Mexico, Chile, Switzerland, Algeria, USA and Nigeria all threatened to derail the footballing establishment, with half of the last 16 ties going to extra-time, but ultimately fell short.
The quarter-final stage starts this week, as the competition continues past the banana-skin stage to that of footballing powerhouses pitted against each other, barring surprise package Costa Rica.
One of these heavyweight clashes sees Germany take on France. Both sides eased their way through the group stages before stumbling through the last 16, but will have to up their respective games if they are to go further.
Key to France’s 2-0 win over Nigeria, apart from a resurgent Paul Pogba, was Mathieu Valbuena, the midfielder for whom the adjective diminutive must surely have been invented. The pint-sized Marseille midfielder created five chances and had a hand in both goals, putting in the corner from which Pogba nodded in before providing the cross that Joseph Yobo bundled into his own net.
These were two of five chances provided by Valbuena, who put in 15 crosses and finished the game with the highest pass accuracy of any player starting the game (94%).
France heat map v Nigeria
Valbuena’s influence on the game was evident by the heat map of the French side. Of the entire team's touches, the bulk of their attacking threat came down Valbuena’s right-hand side.
Compare the right of the pitch with the left, half-heartedly patrolled by Karim Benzema until his shift inside, and you can see just how important Valbuena was to the win, providing the foil for Pogba and Blaise Matuidi’s bursting runs, helping the former test the Nigeria keeper in the first half by playing the one-two between Pogba’s driving run and volley.
His opposite number against Germany is likely to be Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil, who has perhaps typified Germany so far. Without being particularly impressive he has quietly got the job done and is the highest creator of chances in the German squad, adding a goal with his performance against Algeria, albeit one that he and Andre Schuerrle initially looked to have fluffed with an attempt to walk it into the net.
Both men could prove key to the clash, with a big performance from either potentially enough to settle the tie. The pair have each netted once this World Cup, although Valbuena has done so in less time on the pitch, while the Frenchman has created 11 chances to Ozil’s 12.
While Valbuena pips the goals and chances created per 90 minutes stats, Ozil has made more passes per 90 minutes and has also completed more take ons.
In a game that could become bogged down in the central midfield battle, Ozil’s ability to skip past an opponent while coming in from the left or right could prove key.
His action areas map from the Algeria game show the extent to which he drifted across the pitch in search of pockets of space and his ability to find those pockets against a powerful French midfield will be important to the German attack.
This will be particularly important given that central areas are the strength of both France and Germany. While the Germans can keep the ball, France possess power and athleticism in their midfield three that will prove a tough test to break down.
The map above shows the tackles made by their central three against Algeria, which occurred in central areas. Ozil can help to bypass that with his role from wide on the left and take on Mathieu Debuchy, a potential club team-mate at Arsenal next season.
Both Valbuena and Ozil have been creative forces for their sides so far and a good performance from either could determine the winner of what is likely to be a tight game in Rio on Friday.
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