The Telegraph
Friday , July 4 , 2014
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Lahm holds key for Germans

Philipp Lahm

The World Cup reaches its business end with Germany taking on France in the first match on Friday. I will put my money on Germany to go through to the semi-finals. They have this knack of peaking up at the right time and I am sure from quarter finals onwards they will up the tempo.

The man who holds the key for Germany is their captain Philipp Lahm. To me, Lahm is the best player Germany has produced in the last 20 years. Coach Joaquim Loew is using him as central midfielder a la Bayern coach Pep Guardiola in Bayern and I think it’s a good move. Even though there is a clamour for using Lahm as a right-back, I feel Loew should stick to his original plan.

Lahm and Manuel Neuer are two players from Bayern who have understood the Pep Guardiola philosophy of tiki-taka. The German attacks start from Neuer just like Victor Valdes used to do when Pep was in Barcelona. The German midfield also is an embarrassment of riches with players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Thomas Mueller ready to make life miserable for France.

For France to stay in Brazil, Karim Benzema will have to play the match of his life on Friday. He did not score in the last group match against Ecuador and also against Nigeria but created space for the Paul Pogbas.

There’s a lot of talk about Neymar, but to me Hulk is the man to watch out for. He is a type of player you may miss on the screen, but does a lot of hard work in dragging the two lateral backs there by creating space for Neymar. He was excellent against Chile and I am hoping a repeat of that against Colombia.

If it’s Hulk from Brazil, it has to be James Rodriguez for the Colombians. The find of the tournament by a mile, this Monaco player will once again wreak havoc. With no Luiz Gustavo, Brazil will find it tough to deal with this precocious talent. If Colombia script an upset win, it will be because of this man.

Talking about Saturday’s quarter-final clash between Argentina and Belgium, I will not be surprised if Marc Wilmots’s men advance to the last-four stage. This Argentina team is banking too much on Lionel Messi, and frankly you cannot expect the man to bail out every match of the World Cup. Somewhere he will stop and that’s the beauty of football. He is linking up well with Angel Di Maria, but others like Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi will also have to chip in.

Like the Germans, Belgians also are peaking at the right time, and given their performance against US, I will root for them. Before the tournament started, everybody was talking about dark horses Belgium and that was a bit surprising for me. But after I saw them against US I am convinced about the talent of this team.

Kevin de Bruyne is a revelation even though very few are talking about it. His searing runs down the flank will be a real threat for the brttile Argentine defence.

I am also dying to see Arjen Robben in action. The Dutch may have Robin van Persie but its Robben who holds the key. Those dribbles and mazy runs will make Costa Rica’s life miserable. The Ticos though will be no pushovers. Bryan Ruiz is there and above all Keypor Navas.

Lastly, I am saddened that my favourite Alexis Sanchez has returned home. The Chilean was superb right throughout the tournament and it would have been nice to see Alexis having a go at Colombia.

Well, it would have come at Brazil’s expense and that’s the last thing fans across the world would have wanted.