Driven by rage
RIBEIRAO PRETO, Brazil (AP) – France defender Mamadou Sakho and his teammates will be filled with “rage” when they take on Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Not because they have anything personal against the Germans, but because they are still feeling the anger and desperation after barely qualifying for the tournament in Brazil.
Sakho has been France’s vice-captain since the second leg of the World Cup playoffs against Ukraine. With the team trailing 2-0 after a dire performance in Kiev, Sakho scored in a 3-0 win, and his passionate performance sparked a remarkable turnaround.
Since then, France are unbeaten in eight games and have kept six clean sheets.
“Of course I still have the rage inside me from that game,” the Liverpool defender said Wednesday. “We all have a little bit of that rage inside of us.”
France are vastly more inexperienced than Germany, which have reached at least the semi-finals of each major competition since the 2008 European Championship. By contrast, France are rebuilding and have not reached any semi-final since the 2006 World Cup.
But several fresh talents have revamped the national team — which only has two regular starters older than 29.
“We’re a very young team with new players,” Sakho said. “We’ve instilled a new spirit into the team – off the pitch, first of all – and it reflects on the pitch.
“We know that Germany is a big team, a big football nation,” Sakho added. “But we’re also very good and I believe in us.”
At 24-years-old, Sakho is the oldest of France’s new generation and has played 22 times for his country. He was rested against Nigeria after failing to shake of a left hamstring injury but is fit again to face Germany today at Maracana Stadium.
Besides Sakho, Paul Pogba has established himself in midfield and Raphael Varane has done likewise in central defence. Meanwhile, Antoine Griezmann has confidently replaced winger Franck Ribery, who was injured before the tournament.
The 33-year-old Evra and 31-year-old Bacary Sagna are the senior players.
But unlike before, all the players mingle and there is no generational conflict within the squad.
“Everyone sits together at the dinner table, there’s no difference,” Sakho said. “After the meal last night eight of us stayed at the table to talk about football and about life in general. It was brilliant.”
Some change from Euro 2012, when players formed cliques and went straight to their rooms after finishing their meals. It was even worse at the 2010 World Cup, where they were united – but only because they went on strike and refused to train after one of their teammates was sent home.
“I wasn’t part of the old generation, but we really sense that this team gets on,” Sakho said. “If you have strong characters things can blow apart when you’re together for one month. We have strong characters in this team but we’re able to control it.”
Pogba scored his first goal of the tournament in Monday’s 2-0 win over Nigeria in the second round, and he’s also been making an impression behind the scenes.