Germany travels to Paris on Saturday to play France in an exhibition friendly that nevertheless means a lot to Jürgen Klinsmann's young team. Are they good enough to beat a slowed, but still strong Les Bleus?
The German side is taking the game very seriously
The last time Germany beat France, Holocaust author Eli Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard died and Tom Cruise was riding the skies of Soviet fighters in "Top Gun."
West Germany beat France 2-0 in the semifinal of the 1986 World Cup, going on to lose to Argentina 3-2 in the final, with Diego Maradona providing some unforgettable on-field magic.
Germany and France meet again in an exhibition friendly at Paris' Stade de France on Saturday evening. While the meeting is not nearly as important as a World Cup semi-final, it is the last litmus test for Jürgen Klinsmann's team of yearlings against a squad still considered one of the world's best.
"We'll see where we stand against a team like that, it'll be a real test of where we are," said Germany captain Michael Ballack.
Ballack and striker Miroslav Klose, both injured and unable to take part in Germany's 2-1 embarrassment against Turkey a few weeks ago, are ready to roll. Their talents on the attack will be desperately needed in what could shape up to be a shoot-out with Les Bleus, who, even without playmaker Zinadine Zidane, boast some of the world's best strikers.
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Arsenal's Thierry Henry capped a second-half comeback against Costa Rica in a friendly match on Wednesday by knocking in the go-ahead goal with his heel. David Trezeguet, who plays for Juventus Turin, beat Bayern Munich in a Champion's League match last week with a second-half goal. If they're coming up blank, France still has Liverpool's Djibril Cisse as well as the enigmatic and controversial Nicolas Anelka ready for a go from the bench after having marked his national team comeback with a goal on Wednesday.
German defense put to true test
Absorbing this attack will be the young German defense that has yet to find its rhythm. Germany's backline is by far Klinsmann's biggest problem area at the moment. Youth and inexperience are the main culprits in a defense that has shown itself to be more sieve than wall and has become the pundits' punching bag in the months leading up to June's World Cup.
Klinsmann will spend more time worrying about his defense than taking in the Paris sights
Hopes that the Dortmund back Christoph Metzelder, still on the comeback trail from a devastating injury sustained after his break-out performance in the 2002 World Cup, would be able to help anchor Germany's defense were dashed on Wednesday when he pulled up lame in training. It will be offensive-minded Arne Friedrich, Chelsea substitute Robert Huth and 20-year-old Lukas Sinkewiecz who will be there to pick up the slack.
France also is not exactly shining at the moment. Despite only losing once in the past 38 games, Les Bleus struggled mightily in their qualification group, finishing first -and avoiding a play-off - only after Switzerland failed to score a goal against Ireland in the last match. Switzerland will play Turkey Saturday in the first of two play-off matches.
Oldies still goodies
Many experts credit the team's last minute surge to the return of midfield superstar Zidane, who decided to rethink his retirement from the national team. Midfielder Claude Makalele and defensive bedrock Liliam Thuram followed his lead and rejoined the team as well, rebuilding the core that led France to glory in the 1998 World Cup.
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German soccer "Kaiser" Franz Beckenbauer said the hope for the German team might be that the match is more important for Klinsmann's youngsters than it is to France's established superstars.
"A win, or an exciting 90 minutes will provide Jürgen Klinsmann and his team the right atmosphere to go into the World Cup year," he wrote in his weekly column in the tabloid Bild newspaper on Friday.
Klinsmann himself emphasized this week the importance of going into the three-month international break with fond memories.
Going out with a bang, and extra protection
"It's the last match of a moving year, and the impressions will stay," he said.
Extra protection for the German team after the riots of the past few weeks
French authorities are hoping the impressions of the past two weeks of rioting won't be present the day the two teams play. Stade de France is located in the Paris suburb of St. Denis, close to areas which saw fierce clashes between French youth and police in the past few weeks.
The German Soccer Association (DFB) has decided to send two bodyguards along with the national team as a precaution. German insurers are warning fans who plan to drive their cars to the match that their policies likely won't cover any damage should things get out of hand.