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'Tough challenge'

Müller & Co fired up for Maracana clash

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Maracana - eight letters that send a thrill down the spine of every footballer. Once the largest stadium in the world with a capacity of almost 200,000, it is not just a sports ground. It enjoys mythical status and Giovane Elber describes it as “a Brazilian shrine”. Talking about his very first match there in 1968, Franz Beckenbauer declared he “fell in love” with the huge edifice whose stands shook when the fans hopped, danced and celebrated.

The Maracana has lost some of its charm after the comprehensive redevelopment work for the World Cup – the capacity now stands at around 75,000 - but it remains a top destination for all footballers. “We’re looking forward to the Maracana,” confirmed Thomas Müller ahead of Friday’s quarter-final encounter with France. The German players are equally aware they face a “tough challenge” (Bastian Schweinsteiger) at the legendary stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

“The group matches and the game against Nigeria showed how strong the French are,” said Schweinsteiger, “they’ve got some very good individual players with real quality. But they also play as a team.” The Germany vice-captain, set to make his 106th appearance for his country, is convinced “we can beat France if we again play with the right attitude and commitment.”

And hopefully no tired legs. There has been little time for Germany to recover after the 120-minute slog against Algeria in the Round of 16. “We had to play an extra 30 minutes. That’s annoying when you think France beat Nigeria 2-0 in normal time,” said Manuel Neuer. The World Goalkeeper of the Year sees France as “the most consistent team in the tournament. We need eleven players on the pitch who are fully fit.” Temperatures over 30 degrees are forecast for the kick-off in the blazing midday sun of Rio.