Germany forced to make key changes for semi-final
By Karolos Grohmann
EVIAN, France (Reuters) - Germany coach Joachim Loew has been forced to make changes to his team for Thursday's semi-final against hosts France at Euro 2016 because of injuries and a suspension, including replacing key goalscorer Mario Gomez.
Gomez, whose two goals helped the world champions to the last four, has been forced out of the rest of the tournament with a pulled hamstring. Holding midfielder Sami Khedira will also miss the clash because of a groin injury.
Central defender Mats Hummels completes the trio of absentees, sitting out the game due to suspension following a second booking in the Germans' quarter-final victory over Italy on penalties.
Chasing a fourth European title, Germany could also be without Bastian Schweinsteiger. Loew has ruled out using his captain unless he has recovered fully from a knee ligament injury.
The German boss has to decide what to do with his forward line and whether to use Mario Goetze, Lukas Podolski, Thomas Mueller or Leroy Sane. Goetze and Mueller have both been struggling with their form.
In defence Loew is unlikely to deploy a three-man central defence as he did against Italy.
"Against France I still have to think about it. Italy are a team with automated plays. They are world class in playing them but they are predictable," Loew told reporters.
"France are different. They constantly change positions, they are much more unexpected and difficult to predict."
Loew is likely to use Emre Can as Khedira's replacement with Benedikt Hoewedes slipping into the central defence for Hummels.
The French are feeling confident following their 5-2 demolition of Iceland and the euphoria in the country is growing. But, in order to reach a home final in Paris on July 10, Didier Deschamp's team must plug their porous defence.
Leading 4-0 at halftime against Iceland, France dropped their guard, conceding two goals. Centre back Samuel Umtiti, playing his first international, was not totally commanding and Adil Rami, who was suspended, could return for the German game.
Rami, however, has shown signs of nerves on several occasions, as has left back Patrice Evra, leaving France's defence looking vulnerable, notably from set pieces.
"We're looking better but Germany remains Germany," said Deschamps, whose side lost to the eventual winners in the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals as well as suffering painful semi-final defeats to the Germans at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.
"They are the best team in Europe and in the world and the only ones totally controlling the situation, with technical quality everywhere, from the goalkeeper to the forwards," said the coach.
"We'll fight for our chances, knowing what we are up against."
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann. Editing by Adrian Warner.)