It has been a week in which France and Germany have watched several exits from Europe in both the political and sporting sense but now the two fight for a place in Euro 2016’s final in Marseille.
The hosts did not always convince during the group stage and Didier Deschamps has done a great deal of tinkering with his uber talented side, but in the knockouts they have suddenly come together and there’s a great deal more to be confident about for the hosts. Breaking down Ireland was a difficult task but once they had done it they looked irresistible and frankly should have scored many more goals, and against Iceland a positive early start led to what was a thrashing in one of the most impressive performances of the tournament from any side.
The key factor in both of those performances may well have been the change to a 4-2-3-1 that removed the hard working but immobile N’Golo Kante and put Moussa Sissoko in his place on the right hand side of midfield, switching Antoine Griezmann to a central position behind Olivier Giroud. This change proved instrumental with Grizemann scoring twice in quick succession – one from a Giroud layoff – and being unlucky not to have a hat-trick had it been for a Robbie Brady challenge, whilst Matudi and Pogba’s runs gave an effective platform from midfield.
It goes without saying that playing this Germany side will be a different matter entirely but there can be no doubt about who has had the better leadup to the game. France got to play 45 minutes in second gear on Sunday whilst Germany were taken to penalties in an exhausting game by Italy.
Joachim Low decided to match Italy’s 3-5-2 there, meaning the dropping of Julian Draxler, and this change worked in general as they had the better of the chances (albeit coming into the second half) and did prevent Italy (in the main) from creating the same quality and volume of chances that they did against Spain for example. Germany will also look to take advantage of a more open French defence than the exceptional Italian rearguard, but the dynamic of Thursday’s matchup is likely to be far more expansive than the quarter final.
A bigger factor is likely to be the effort and sacrifice Germany made to reach this stage. Mario Gomez, Germany’s only effective focal point upfront so far, is gone for the rest of the tournament and Sami Khedira and his placement Bastian Schewinsteiger both suffered injuries that will keep them out of this clash; Mats Hummels’s suspension is another barrel barrel blow to their prospects to boot. Against Ukraine Shkodran Mustafi filled in for Hummels and scored but the Ukrainians had more than enough chances and Emre Can will be thrown into midfield as well. It’s worth noting that before Mario Gomez was bought in that Germany struggled to create chances from open play and Poland and Ukraine would have been frustrated not to have scored at least once in their matches.
Germany have improved through the tournament and are entirely worthy of the respect that they garner as World Champions but if Deschamps sticks with the formation and XI that has won him two knockout games they will face a bigger battle in midfield then they have so far and France will be comforted by the absence of Mario Gomez. With home advantage and the fresher side in theory, they have more options on the bench and home advantage; Everything is set fair for a French final.
4 pts France to qualify (19/20 Betfair)