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Bixente Lizarazu has been a ubiquitous presence in the French football media for several years now. Be it on the radio, television, or in the written press, the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ and 2000 UEFA European Championship winner has shown as much versatility off the pitch as he did in his playing days.
In Brazil to cover the 2014 World Cup, the former France and Bayern Munich left-back took time out of his busy schedule to grant an exclusive interview to FIFA.com, during which he discussed the eventful semi-finals, Sunday’s showpiece match and his own country’s performances in the tournament.
FIFA.com: What did you think after watching Brazil’s incredible semi-final loss to Germany?
Bixente Lizarazu: Lots of different things. What happened was pretty illogical. When a team loses 7-1 in a World Cup semi-final, you can’t really do much technical or tactical analysis. The way I see it, psychological and emotional aspects came into play. I think that the World Cup has been emotionally draining for the Brazilians; that’s the only explanation I can come up with. You got the impression that lifting the trophy was a matter of life and death – before the matches, during the anthems and at other key moments. Emotions were running high. Top-level football requires cool heads, and it seemed like Brazil didn’t have enough of them.
Did Brazil really have a chance of going all the way, in your opinion?
Some people are commenting after the event and saying that the team wasn’t very good, but they still managed to beat Chile and Colombia, who had both looked dangerous. Of course, they were without Neymar and Thiago Silva during the semi-final, but the entire team had an off day – they didn’t become a fifth division outfit overnight. It all just got too much for them which had an effect on their game.
Can the Brazilians pick themselves up and secure third place versus the Netherlands?
I don’t know: I’ve never had to face that type of situation, which is almost unique at the World Cup. If Luiz Felipe Scolari had a magic solution, he would have used it at half-time to ensure the players pulled themselves together. It’s like someone who’s been on edge for weeks and weeks due to a build-up of all kinds of things, and who eventually cracks and has a nervous breakdown. There’s nothing more to add about Saturday's match, which will not be easy to play in, and which, whatever happens, will not erase the memory of their 7-1 defeat.
How much credit should be given to Germany?
Everyone’s talking about Brazil, and of course something wasn’t quite right because of the huge gap between the sides. But that said, I thought Germany put in an outstanding performance. Tactically, they’ve been exceptional during the World Cup. They managed to sort out their problems as they went along, especially in defence against Algeria, where they were rescued by Manuel Neuer. Philipp Lahm was put back to right-back, and the two defensive midfielders, Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger, have gotten a little bit better with every match. I’d say the turning point came against France, with Mats Hummels returning to central defence. Germany became a well-balanced team from that point onwards. A lot of people are playing down the Germans’ role, because of Brazil being eliminated, but in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014, Germany reached the semi-final stage or better.
They’re a very crafty team – they can slow the game down and dictate the pace. They think about what they’re doing and they’re not easy to break down.FIFA World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu on Argentina
How do you explain their consistency in major tournaments?
They’ve had some great generations when they didn’t win. They deserved it at times, but that doesn’t really mean anything. I’d say they came closest at EURO 2012, where they lost to Italy due to terrible defensive mistakes, despite being the pre-match favourites. Perhaps they were a little too obsessed with playing attractive football. In my opinion, Germany are, along with Spain, the team that often produces the highest quality of football, but they were lacking certain things, such as the ability to finish off a match when necessary. Here, we’ve seen them adapt to lots of different situations, before attaining tactical perfection against Brazil. There are days like that where everything you touch turns to gold, with lovely passing triangles and interchanges, and goals coming from practically every shot. This generation deserves to finally win a major title, because they’ve been so close several times.
Argentina-Germany, is that a final you like the sound of?
It should be a great final. Argentina have had trouble getting going in this tournament. They’ve also had defensive problems, but have made some clever selection choices, with Martin Demichelis starting in central defence, Lucas Biglia moving to a different position, and Javier Mascherano bossing things in midfield. All of those tweaks have provided balance to the team. They put in an excellent defensive performance versus Belgium, and against the Netherlands too, where you had two strong defences squaring off. They’ve lost a key player in Angel Di Maria, and it’s not clear yet if he’ll be able to play in the final, but they’ve got Lionel Messi, who’s been in decisive form, and who also intends to write his own bit of history. Gonzalo Higuain has been very good in the last couple of matches, while Sergio Aguero is available again, so there’s a lot of attacking potential. They’re a very crafty team – they can slow the game down and dictate the pace. They think about what they’re doing and they’re not easy to break down. Their forwards’ speed, liveliness and technical ability are impressive, but what has struck me the most about them is the way they break up their opponents’ rhythm. The Netherlands were barely allowed to show what they could do, despite the fact that they were one of the most entertaining teams we’ve seen here.
Let’s talk about France a little. Were you pleased by how they played during the World Cup?
There were things that I liked, but the way it all ended was disappointing and a little bit frustrating. I thought they lacked flair towards the end – that’s the one thing I regret. That said, they had to face Germany, and we’ve since seen what they’re truly capable of. They’re an experienced side that have been through a lot together, which is not yet the case for France. They either held back and tried to be too prudent, or they had nothing left in the tank; whatever it was, there was a real lack of verve. For me, the Nigeria game was the toughest, because we were favourites, while against Germany we weren’t. That’s why it would have been nice to see them throw caution to the wind and tell themselves they had nothing to lose. I felt like they had more to give.
What did you feel were France’s plus points?
Didier Deschamps. I like him a lot, because his goals and approach were very clear, from his team selection to the message he tried to get across. He was able to find the right blend of players and the right words at the right time. He made sure the team didn’t get carried away after their 5-2 win over Switzerland. He brought back stability and order to the side, which was no easy task. A sense of calm returned to the squad, and it was nice to see everything go back to normal. That important groundwork will be of great use in the next couple of years. I also like his honesty. He's not a dreamer, he’s a builder, and I like that mentality, because you can’t just create a winning team overnight, even less so one that can lift the World Cup. However, in two years’ time, when we host EURO 2016, we’re going to be very solid indeed.