Euro 2016 Semi-Final: Germany 0-2 France - Tactical Analysis
An Antoine Griezmann penalty in first-half stoppage time after Bastian Schweinsteiger was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the 18-yard area saw Les Bleus steal the lead after Die Mannschaft had dominated the opening period.
The second half saw Didier Deschamps’ charges conjure the killer second goal in the 72nd minute as Griezmann popped up again, and that was the way it stayed for the remainder of the tie as the second semi-final drew to a close in Marseille.
Now, for a tactical look at why the result panned out the way it did.
Griez lightning strikes twice as French firepower proves decisive
Going into the match, Griezmann was highlighted as the main French threat. With four goals to his name, he was the tournament’s top scorer and he was being linked with clubs faster than even he was able to rattle the net. If he could get going, the Germans would have a real tussle on their hands, the majority opined.
And so it proved in the end as it was his touches of brilliance which ultimately swung the contest in his team’s favour with two well-taken strikes to bring his tournament tally to half a dozen.
His double has sparked the Ballon d’Or conversation with many claiming that the Atletico Madrid star must be a contender to take Lionel Messi’s crown. It might be a tad early to nail anyone down as a certainty to win the award yet, especially with the grand final still to come on Sunday.
Emerge the other side of it with a golden medal draped from his neck and the Henri Delaunay trophy clasped in hand, however, and the chat might sound extra promising for the 25-year-old midfielder.
The first of his semi-final brace came from 12 yards out and although many fans of Joachim Loew’s team will feel majorly aggrieved at the way they fell behind, the rest can marvel at how confidently Griezmann dispatched it, powerfully and with confidence to Manuel Neuer’s right.
However, he was fizzing around the pitch long before that shot hit the back of the net and his seventh-minute effort which was palmed away to safety clearly attests to that. A series of ole-inducing, interlinking one-twos with Blaise Matuidi on the left of central midfield allowed Griezmann inside the box to shoot and it showcased just how much cut-throat brio they could play with when they wanted to.
It also gave great insight into how much more direct than their opponents they were able to be. They might have found the breakthrough thanks to an infringement, but they were doing their utmost to be masters of their faith quite some time prior to it.
The La Liga attacker’s second goal of the evening was a toe-poke from eight yards after some clever movement from Paul Pogba sent in a dangerous cross which Neuer could not handle, and the ball fell kindly at his feet – however, he still had to react quickest to stab home to seal a famous win.
The fact that Griezmann was in a rather central role meant that he was able to influence the play more in France’s 4-2-3-1 system. The two shielding midfielders in front of the rearguard added an extra layer of protection to their defence, and as we’ll outline in a moment, Germany simply couldn’t find the right key to pick the lock.
Pressure-soaking French cancel out “superior” German football
Social media accounts everywhere couldn’t help but gush at the efficiency of Germany’s football for the majority of the first half, and indeed for a great deal of the second.
The image ingrained in many spectators’ minds of the white shirts of the “home” side will be that of them camped inside France’s half. Like an invading force encircling the gates of their enemy’s castle, they plotted and waited for the right moment to pounce. In the end, they waited too long to deal their initial assault and were left red-faced at the final whistle.
To put it bluntly, they were inept in front of goal and for all their eye-catching play, simply didn’t deserve to go through on the basis of their offensive weakness.
Of course, they sprayed the ball around the park with authority, got out wide fast and often in an effort to stretch a stubborn French back four and they monopolised possession well, but they often did it with little imagination or the directness one needs when you’re chasing such an important game.
It took them an astonishing full 48 minutes before they had a shot on target in the second half as a header forced Hugo Lloris to spring into action with a fine stop, although they did rattle the upright in the 74th minute through a wonderful, curled Joshua Kimmich shot with his left boot as well as seeing a Howedes header skim the roof of the net in the final 10 minutes.
Journalist Jack Grimse had the most relatable analogy of the evening for their woes:
Today for Germany was that one game in FIFA where no matter what you do, the shots just don't go in. unlucky, congrats to #FRA!— Jack Grimse (@JackGrimse) July 7, 2016
Germany’s lack of a traditional no. 9 was a massively real reason behind their inability to cause enough trouble for Lloris and the defenders just ahead of him and it cost them dearly in the end. Sure, many teams have played without an out-and-out striker on the pitch it has been done with great results in the past, but against France Germany proved that it doesn’t always work.
An equally important factor in Germany’s no-show in front of goal was that France were more than capable of soaking the pressure up. They battled diligently as a team, especially after what was surely a rousing half-time team talk from their manager.
Lively and full of fight, they worked hard for each other all over the pitch and although it wasn’t always beautiful in the conventional sense, it certainly inspired the hopeful romantics amongst the fans watching.
Hosts thrive off a la mode counter-attacking and heart
Scarves emblazoned with the phrase ‘Les irresistibles Francais’ and waves of colourful tricolores littered the modern stands in the south of France as Deschamps’ team marched to victory buoyed by the national anthem of La Marseillaise buzzing in their ears, and it was thanks in large part to the manner in which they subscribed to the counter-attacking view.
Germany couldn’t fashion the right move and in a fight against the French, the masters of fashion, it was never going to be easy for them. Les Francais, ultimately, were cut from a different cloth offensively, and that really did prove the main difference on the night.
That counter-attacking football is in vogue and there can be no denying. We have all seen the likes of Leicester City and Atletico Madrid bring its effectiveness to new and exciting levels in recent times, and France were eager to become the next great exponents of its value when they defeated Germany.
That neither of their two goals came by virtue of a breakaway attack will do little to detract from the notion that they did their best to hurt their competitors with it. Olivier Giroud should have scored from a swift transfer from defence to attack in the opening half if not for an expert intervention by Benedikt Howedes.
Griezmann, too, tried valiantly to carry the ball forward with velocity to test the German backline on a number of occasions not least when he stole in on a hat-trick in the 86th minute after plucking a stray German pass into his own slipstream. Speeding in behind cover with demonic purpose, his final effort wasn’t good enough to cap a fine solo performance with a trio of goals to remember.
But it was that irresistible blend of heart, spirit and intelligence which saw them really push Germany to breaking point at key moments.
Moreover, in the 46th minute, just after the restart, they exemplified their penchant for catching Germany unaware as Bacary Sagna’s headed interception of Jerome Boateng’s long pass in search of Jonas Hector found Moussa Sissoko who linked with Pogba to find Giroud only for the Arsenal striker to take an age to have a crack that was ultimately blocked away.
Nobody will say they were best on the ball, but they were clinical in their creativity and secured the necessary goals.
For now, they can bask in the glory of such a magnificent victory but they will quickly turn their attentions to the final against the Portuguese because the entire nation will now expect victory. The omens look good, though, because L’Hexagone are going into the tie with a six-goal supremo in their ranks and the similarities between this bunch of players and the Euro 2000-winning squad are too obvious to ignore.
Will fate abide by its own rules?