Stalemate in battle of Germany and France
The big guns cancelled each other out on opening night of Uefa Nations League
France midfielder Paul Pogba vies with Germany’s Joshua Kimmich during their Uefa Nations League clash. Photo: Franck Fife/Getty Images
Germany 0 France 0
Germany and France played out a 0-0 draw at the Allianz Arena in Munich as the winners of the last two World Cups respectfully cancelled out each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
It was not the start Uefa will have been wanting for its new Nations League tournament, or the redemption the home fans will have wanted, but it was not without its moments.
The talk in town before the game was whether a post-World-Cup-woe Germany needed a simple reboot or radical rebuild. Those calling for the latter will be disappointed on this evidence but they cannot say they were not warned.
There were only five changes in the 23-man squad from this summer and four changes to the starting line-up from the South Korea calamity in Russia. In fact, five of the team started the 2014 World Cup final.
In the build-up to this clash of champions past and present, head coach Joachim Low said it would be daft to ditch what had worked so well in the past — including 10 wins out of 10 games in qualifying for Russia — even if he believed Germany could play a la Francaise.
Lacking French boss Didier Deschamps’ array of midfield spoilers and speedy raiders, Low said Germany would stick to a possession game, although he did acknowledge they had overdone it this summer and perhaps 75 per cent of the ball is a bit self-indulgent, so here they settled for 60 per cent.
If that felt like some progress, there were worrying signs other lessons had not been learned.
The hosts’ ball movement started steady and got steadier. Their four strapping defenders, with Joshua Kimmich and Toni Kroos forming a midfield shield, made them harder to hit on the break but hardly panicked France’s formidable rearguard.
And when Germany did get the ball into a decent position, Marco Reus simply disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle formed by N’Golo Kante, Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti.
But it is not like the French were racing through the gears, either. Paul Pogba was more in Manchester United than World Cup mode, Antoine Griezmann was guilty of forcing too many passes and Olivier Giroud continued to occupy defenders without distressing them.
Only Kylian Mbappe of France’s summer stalwarts really looked in the mood but even he struggled to find time and space.
Perhaps the most significant piece of action in the first half came when Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger clumsily stamped on Benjamin Pavard — the Stuttgart defender will have experienced rougher treatment here against Bayern Munich, though.
The sense of deja vu became almost overwhelming before the break when Mats Hummels headed over the bar after a Kroos corner — he missed a sitter against South Korea, too — and Giroud saw a decent header saved by Manuel Neuer. He used to be so prolific for France.
The second half started with drizzle and paper aeroplanes in the air, not what the 67,000-strong crowd had come to see.
But in the 64th minute Reus reappeared and forced Alphonse Areola, in for the injured Hugo Lloris and the only change to the World Cup final line-up, to make a fine save from a fierce, first-time shot.
Ten minutes later, the Borussia Dortmund forward was at it again, leading a rare German break made even stranger by the fact it contained Hummels, who Areola denied with another good stop.
The Paris St Germain goalkeeper then surpassed himself, with an even better save to deny a Matthias Ginter header from a Kroos corner. This was more like the old gang.
By this stage, both sides had made changes — Ilkay Gundogan coming on for the anonymous Leon Goretzka, a switch that only highlighted the absence of Mesut Ozil more brightly, and Giroud had given way to Ousmane Dembele — but it was ‘Die Mannschaft’ who looked reinvigorated.
As the game entered its final minutes, the crowd finally got the one change they all seemed to agree was needed: Leroy Sane. The Manchester City man made one darting run but he ran into Umtiti and the moment passed. It was that kind of night.
France were greeted as worthy world champions and wandered off looking relatively pleased with themselves. While Germany started slowly but did just enough by the end to remind everyone they are still Germany.