Would France run aground against ‘Die Mannschaft’? Could the Germans pick their way through the French football’s Maginot line, finding weakness within Didier Deschamps’ structural plans? Would it be possible for this column not to brutalise further allegories or indulge in clichéd guff in pursuit of a cheap chuckle here and there?
These and other topical matters were teased out before and during Tuesday night’s European Championship Group H clash at the Football Arena, Munich and arguably the biggest game of the tournament so far between France and Germany.
Mercifully for several players it temporarily shifted the focus away from reports of off-field rancour in both camps. Deschamps recalled Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema to the starting team, a player who in 2015 is alleged to have been involved in a plot to blackmail a former teammate with regard to a ‘sex-tape.’ It will go to trial in October.
More recently Benzema dismissed international teammate Olivier Giroud pointing out that in ability terms he was an F1 car while the latter was a go-kart. Giroud responded by pointing out that unlike Benzema, he was a World Cup winner “which is not bad for a go-kart.”
The French crèche opened for business once again last week following a 3-0 tournament warm-up win over Bulgaria. Giroud, despite scoring two goals after coming on for Benzema, suggested that he had suffered from an indifferent service, remarks that teammate Kylian Mbappé took personally, expressing disappointment in the media.
Kofi Annan mightn’t have been able to broker a peace deal had he been on hand to join the French backroom team as a late call-up. It wasn’t all plain sailing for ‘Die Mannschaft’ (ED: that’s to be the end of nautical references) following manager Joachim Löw’s decision to repatriate veterans Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels, initially back into the squad having discarded them in 2018, and then into the starting line-up for last night’s game.
In the RTÉ studio former German international midfielder Didi Hamann explained in detail the background to the story, bringing it up to date with authority and insight, characteristics with which he invariably peppers his analysis. The same can be said of Richie Sadlier, who took the lead on the absence of entente cordiale with the French squad.
When the game eventually started neither Ronnie Whelan nor George Hamilton were particularly enamoured with the calibre of passing in the first 19-minutes; the game’s first goal summed up the general carelessness. There may have been more than a handful of German supporters who wished Löwhadn’t reversed the expulsion order when Hummels sliced an attempted clearance into his own goal.
Whelan may still have been reeling from confirmation that Stephanie Roche, a studio analyst for Portugal’s 3-0 victory over Hungary earlier that afternoon, wasn’t born when he scored his glorious ‘shin-volley’ against Russia in Euro ‘88. It’s a segment that RTÉ has incorporated into their coverage, reflecting on some of the iconic moments from previous tournaments.
Whelan’s iconic goal
When Roche confessed she wasn’t born until 1989, studio anchor Jacqui Hurley turned to former Republic of Ireland striker Kevin Doyle to rescue a point; albeit that he was six but it was the first iconic goal that he could recall. Whelan must feel like Methuselah.
Apart from the goal the main debating points at half-time was whether Joshua Kimmich might have got an early bath for two yellow card offences: the verdict ‘yes’, Sadlier, ‘no’ Hamann and what sort of foreplay German defender Antonio Rudiger was indulging in when he went to what could be construed from one camera angle as a nibble on French midfielder Paul Pogba’s back and then a nipple tweak.
There was more to admire as the game broke open after the interval and better represented the quality of the teams. Rabiot could have made it 2-0, but didn’t, Gnabry should have made it 1-1 but smashed a close range volley into the turf and over the crossbar.
Mbappé did find the net but just as Hamilton surged to stretch his vocal chords the linesman’s flag cut the pitch short. Nice finish? Yes. Offside? Definitely. Hummels redeemed his earlier error with a stunning last ditch tackle on Mbappe that looked a penalty in real time and after watching a replay, Whelan thought it might well have been a spot kick.
Mbappé, perhaps because it wasn’t Giroud, squared a tap-in for Benzema having raced clear onto a Pogba pass but following a VAR check the ‘goal’ was once again correctly ruled out for offside.
The headlines from the game will contain the familiar names of Mbappé, Benzema and Hummels who dominated so much of the pre-game hype.