Germany v France: Big powers still have questions to answer

Two historic rivals meet in Marseille for the chance to take on Portugal in the final

Antoine Griezmann celebrates after he scored the fourth goal for France during the Euro 2016 quarter-final against Iceland. Photo: Getty Images

Antoine Griezmann celebrates after he scored the fourth goal for France during the Euro 2016 quarter-final against Iceland. Photo: Getty Images

 
  • Tonight’s second semi-final promises to be a classic clash between two historic rivals, one of them reigning World Champions and the other the tournament’s host nation.

Tradition might argue that France have done well in “home” tournaments, winning both the 1984 Euro and the 1998 World Cup. Tradition would also point out that this is the eighth time in 44 years that Germany are through to the semi-finals and fruthermore that they have won six of the previous seven.

Yet, history aside, both sides come into this evenly balanced game with questions marks hanging over them. With the exception of their most recent 5-2 win over Iceland, France have struggled in this tournament. Against Romania and Albania in the opening round and indeed against Ireland in the second round, France appeared weighed down the huge weight of national expectation.

On top of that injuries to Matthieu and Varane on the eve of the tournament left coach Didier Deschamps short of key players in a defence which looked less than watertight when conceding two goals the other night to the plucky Icelanders.

Germany’s progress thus far, even if arguably more impressive, has not been without hiccups. Having saved their energy against Poland (0-0) and Northern Ireland (1-0) in the first round, they cruised past Slovakia (3-0) in the second round. Yet, in their last game, a marathon penalty shoot-out win against Italy, there was no cruising as the Italians stretched Joachim Low’s side to the pin of its collective collar.

Furthermore, striker Mario Gömez and midfielder Sami Khedira, both injured, and suspended defender, Mats Hummels, all miss tonight’s game. Not surprisingly, French coach Didier Deschamps was very interested in hard news on their likely replacements yesterday, joking with reporters:

Second Captains

“Everything depends on the German line-up tomorrow. If, by chance, any of you can give me the German team, I would be most interested . . . ”

As for his own team, Deschamps was giving nothing away yesterday. Reserve midfielder, Moussa Sissoko, confirmed the other day that Deschamps had told him he would be playing against Iceland just as he was about to get on the team bus to go to the game. It may be that Deschamps will today again leave his call late. In all probability, though, he has only two doubts going into this game, namely Newcastle’s Sissoko or Leicester’s N’Golo Kante in midfield and Lyon’s Samuel Umtiti or Seville’s Adil Rami in defence.

Otherwise, his team picks itself with France being especially hopeful that the frontline of Dimitri Payet, Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann, prompted by the potentially explosive talent of Paul Pogba can do the damage. French daily, L’Equipe summed up those hopes yesterday with a front page photo of goalscorer Griezmann with the headline: “He scares them (Germany)”

That is probably a headline written more in hope than belief. It is difficult to imagine the supremely self-confident World Champions going into any game with worries about any particular player. However, that gruelling game against Italy proved the Germans to be vulnerable, both in defence and also in terms of their nervous penalties, where no less than Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger all missed their spot kicks.

A key decision for Löw will be his choice of central defender to replace the suspended Hummels. Current Nice coach Lucien Favre, a man who has coached both Hertha Berlin and Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Bundesliga, argues that the loss of Hummels creates serious problems for Loew, telling reporters:

“Hummels is an absolutely key player for Germany. Howedes (possible replacement) is a good player but he is not the same . . . ”

Löw may well opt for Benni Howedes or Shkrodan Mustafi in defence, Emre Can or Julian Weigl in midfield, while he may ask Thomas Muller to play centre forward in place of Gomez with Mario Gotze in Muller’s normal role. Observers suggest that Loew these days is a super confident coach. So it comes as little surprise when he plays down the hostile, “away factor” tonight, telling reporters this week:

“Super, when there is such an atmosphere! . . . almost the entire stadium will be against us . . . Mind you in Brazil (at the World Cup), a country of 200 million stood behind them and we were able to cope well (i.e win 7-1). We will be able to cope well again.”

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