France beat Germany (0-2) thanks to Griezmann and a solid collective performance
It had been 58 years and three confrontations before France finally beat their German rivals. The end of a curse that gave all its taste to this special semi-final, between the hosts and the holders of the World Cup. If the level of play wasn't as high as expected, the tension and the opposition between the two teams' styles was worth watching. Now France are freed of a huge part of the pressure, even though the final against Portugal won't be a walk in the park. Nonetheless, the Frenchmen are on a mission to lift their third Henri Delaunay trophy, for the second time on their land.
Fruitless domination for Germany
The intentions shown by France in the very first minutes of the game were the application of a principle relatively clear to beat that Germany: harrass them to get the ball high enough and attack whenever possible. Didier Deschamps' men sticked to this philosophy for the first seven minutes before Germany started to calm things down and dictate the tempo. From then on, it was a mental battle about who would be the strongest, and the most accurate. Since the beginning of the tournament, the Germans haven't been that accurate in front of the goal, as proven by Thomas Müller (0 goals in the competition) lately. The absence of Mario Gomez, the top scorer for Germany in this Euro 2016 (2 goals) was a lot to deal with for the Mannschaft's front line. France, on the contrary, got to this semi-final thanks to the efficiency of their attack, and the mastery of Atlético's Antoine Griezmann.
As minutes went by however, France appeared more timid and less able to hit on the break. That is exactly when Patrice Evra hit the ball on a French corner with a strong header that Bastian Schweinsteiger only could stop with his arm in the air. A regrettable mistake that gave Griezmann an unexpected chance to score the opener. He might have thought of the penalty he missed in the Champions League final in Milan, a typical trauma that could have made him lose his focus and sent back the French in the dressing room with a goalless draw. But he didn't shake one bit and put the ball into the back of the net, scoring his 5th goal in the competition (45+2th minute).
This would be the ultimate blow that probably ruined the Germans' spirits a little. Back on the pitch, they seemed completely helpless against a French side that decided to start the second half on a strong note. To illustrate that powerlessness, there is a blatant figure: no shots were made by Germany between half-time and the 74th minute. And this frustration gained the defensive line, guilty of an usual mistake for Germany, as Höwedes tried to give the ball to Kimmich, with the latter being too passive and losing the ball to Pogba. The Juventus ace then delivered a cross in the box after fooling Mustafi with a great feint. Symbol of Germany's solidness and success, Manuel Neuer, arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, made a mistake as well, offering the ball to Griezmann who soflty put it in, once again (72nd minute). 6th goal for the Mâcon native and a ticket for the final in front of the French people. A night of joy and relief could start in Marseille, where the Velodrome hasn't stopped boiling for the whole of the 90 minutes.
From underdog to favourite
Historically, France have always loved this position of being the underdogs in a game. That brings the best out of their players and the motivation comes naturally. When the status changes and that France become the favourites, it is a different story. The difference of level between Germany and Portugal will be the main risk for Didier Deschamps and his players, as they might have the strange feeling the hardest part was beating Joachim Löw's men. But a final is meant to be won, not just to be played, and the likes of Pogba, Griezmann, Giroud, Matuidi and Payet know that.
This may be the element that was added in France's 2016 version. In front of their public, where the national team already won twice (in 1984 in the Euros and in 1998 in the World Cup), no matter what the opponent is, they still give their best and never surrender. Whether it is Iceland, Ireland, Albania or Germany, the objective is the same: scoring more than their opponents. The Frenchmen get their inspiration from their offensive number one threat, Antoine Griezmann, who has already lost an important final in May. He surely won't lose another one, at home. Cristiano is warned.
Sunday 10 July