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Euro 2016: Germany vs France, “Match of the season” – Hit or miss?

France recorded a comprehensive 2-0 win over Germany in the semi-final of the UEFA Euro 2016, but was it the match of the tournament?

Germany vs France
France beat Germany 2-0 in the semi-final

The second semi-final of UEFA Euro 2016 between France and Germany was termed as the biggest, possibly the most exciting fixture of the tournament. The encounter was labelled as the “match of the tournament” by many, but did it live up to the expectations and standards envisaged?

Well, mostly yes.

Was it exciting? Yes. Were there good goals? Yes. Was it boring at any point? Not at all. Did both teams display good football? Yes. Were there a lot of close chances? Absolutely.
With this you can conclude that it does seem like it was a pretty good game of football. Definitely semi-final worthy. The only disappointing thing as a football fan, and also the most surprising thing, was the clean sheet. It’s ironic a clean sheet would be disappointing because keeping a clean sheet indicates good football in itself, even if just defensively. But a clean sheet in a semi-final is no fun.

But who would ever think that Germany wouldn’t score in a major tournament’s semi-final? However, kudos to France to have kept such an important clean sheet.

Majority of people expected the World Champions Germany to win the match so it certainly came as a surprise when it was France instead that progressed to face Portugal in the final on Sunday at the Stade de France.

France weren’t the underdog per se, but when any team plays against the champions of the world, it’s a given you automatically become the underdog, no matter how good your squad might be. But anyhow, underdog is just a word.

In fact, it was France who came into the semifinal with a more convincing quarter-final victory when they beat Iceland 5-2 while Germany just scraped past Italy and won their quarter-final game 6-5 on penalties.

It was ultimately brilliant French defending, the blazing Antoine Griezmann and brilliant goalkeeping by Hugo Lloris that knocked the World Cup winners out. This was the first time France had beaten Germany at a major tournament since 1958. This was also their first major tournament clean sheet against Germany; some feat to achieve at that level of the tournament against the world champions.

When you see the final score it might give you the impression that France were clearly the better team, and perhaps they were a tad bit better, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t thoroughly challenged and pressured by Germany throughout the match. Die Mannschaft had a lot of chances, particularly in the first half and towards the end of the second half but luck didn’t go their way and they couldn’t get a goal and what was lacking for the Germans was probably that extra cutting edge.

Sure luck played a factor for France when they got a penalty right at the end of the first half but their victory wasn't all due to luck. It was rightfully a combination of luck, skill and Didier Deschamps’ side capitalizing on the luck they had and on the mistakes made by the Germans. Joachim Low’s side struggled partly due to the absence of Mario Gomez, while the poor form of Thomas Muller didn’t help either, as he missed a string of chances.

The first half was completely dominated by Germany, as France were happy to sit back and absorb the pressure. Despite complete domination by the world champions in the first half, France were the team that went into half time with a lead, thanks to Antoine Griezmann’s penalty strike right at the stroke of half time, after Bastian Schweinsteiger had handled the ball inside the penalty box.

Schweinsteiger also happened to set a new European record of being the most-capped player at major international tournaments, with his appearance in this semi being his 38th for Germany.

France, however, came out all guns blazing in the second half. Griezmann almost sealed the victory for his team about 20 minutes before the end of the game with a simple finish due to an incomplete punch by Neuer and a defensive error by Kimmich which Pogba had capitalized on. 

Griezmann has led France’s attack with aplomb

When you think of words that come to your mind based on the entire match and how it went, the first thing that comes to my mind is Antoine Griezmann. He assumed the form of leader at the front, attacker, and hero. The French team had names like Giroud, Pogba and Payet to rely on, but it was Griezmann who was the biggest threat to Germany during the entire course of the match with more shots on goal than any other player. He ended up being the hero and entertainer with his two goals and his Hotline Bling-like celebration which had temporarily broken the football side of the internet.

Griezmann leads the goalscoring charts with six goals to his name, while Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Giroud and Payet all find themselves in second spot with three goals a piece. With six goals, Griezmann is now the second leading goal-scorer in a single European Championships (surpassing Zinedine Zidane and being tied with Thierry Henry), with only Michel Platini having scored more goals at a single Euro finals (9) during the 1984 Euros.

All eyes will be on Griezmann to provide the goalscoring threat for Les Blues, considering the on and off nature of Olivier Giroud’s game.

As French legend Thierry Henry stated about “the main man Griezmann”, “we all knew that he had to play this type of game. We again have a hero, a striker who can make us win tournaments. Hopefully. What a player.”

For Germany, the players who were expected to shine were Thomas Muller, Julian Draxler and Mesut Ozil but it was Howedes and Toni Kroos who were possibly the best German players on the pitch. 

Low was without Hummels for the semi-final as the 27-year-old was suspended for the clash. Mario Gomez and Sami Khedira were also not available for selection due to injuries and Emre Can was brought into the starting line-up in place of Khedira.

It can be argued that Germany were hurt by the absence of Mats Hummels who can play in almost every position when needed, but the real team performance was delivered by France – with most players, particularly Griezmann, Evra, Koscielny, Umtiti and Hugo Lloris impressing. 

There was a great sense of nationalism inside the stadium as the French supporters started singing their national anthem La Marseillaise when Germany tried to up their game and were pushing for the equalizer.

Even later when Griezmann was subbed off during injury time, the kind of ovation he received was absolutely incredible. France were emotional and ecstatic with their victory after which they ironically went around doing a rendition of Iceland’s ‘Viking clap’ with their supporters, having got the better of the Vikings in the quarters. 

There will be a sense of Deja Vu in the final on Sunday as it’ll be Ronaldo vs Griezmann in a second final this season, just like it was in the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. The atmosphere for the final is expected to be electric. especially with the hosts contesting the game. France will be hoping to use the home support to their advantage and use it against the Portuguese, while Ronaldo is expected to be on a mission to guide his country to the elusive silverware. 

The game looks to be an evenly poised one, but France hold an edge, only just.

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