France’s national soccer team came of age at the right time, and the country should celebrate with vigor.
France defeated Germany 2-0 on Thursday in the semifinals of the 2016 UEFA European Championship, with Antoine Griezmann initially sparking Les Bleus’ euphoria by scoring a penalty-kick goal on the stroke of halftime.
The 25-year-old France star elevated himself to legendary status in the second half by scoring another goal, which confirmed the host nation’s place in Sunday’s Euro 2016 final. With Germany joining the ranks of the fallen, only Portugal now stands between France and a party 16-plus years in the making.
This semifinal lived up to its billing as a clash of European powers. Germany edged past France in the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup en route to the world championship. In the intervening two years, France hired Dider Deschamps as head coach, trusting the former national team captain to engineer Les Bleus’ progress with hopes of winning the European Championship. If France was to triumph on home soil at Euro 2016, it would have to knock Germany — a team it hadn’t beaten in a Euro or World Cup game since 1958 — from its perch atop the continental pecking order.
Griezmann signaled France’s intent early on, but Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer ended Les Bleus’ first flowing move with a top-quality save. The approving home fans might have been expecting more of the same, but Germany soon assumed control of the proceedings and pressured France in a way no other side has managed to at Euro 2016. France wouldn’t win this game through style. Grit and opportunism would have to pave the way forward.
France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris repeatedly matched Neuer’s heroics throughout the first half, denying Emre Can, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller from scoring the all-important opener. The Germans forged numerous other chances, but France’s Paul Pogba (23 years old) and Samuel Umtiti (22 years old) showed bravery and awareness beyond their years in preventing the efforts from troubling Lloris.
Germany outplayed France in the first half, but the game dramatically turned in the 45th minute when Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteger committed a handball inside his own penalty area. Griezmann converted the penalty kick, as France profited from referee Nicola Rizzoli’s harsh decision.
At halftime, Deschamps readied his team for an onslaught, which France handled it superbly. The hosts absorbed Germany’s 15-minute spell of pressure, which ended when Jerome Boateng limped out of the game with an apparent calf injury in the 60th minute. Shkodran Mustafi replaced Boateng with dire consequences.
A re-calibrated France responded to Boateng’s injury with attacking and defensive pressure of its own. The former was marginally effective. The latter was devestating, as Pogba recovered the ball on the edge of Germany’s box, freed himself of Mustafi with a skill move and floated a cross into the goal-mouth. Neuer, the best goalkeeper in the world, failed to clear Pogba’s cross, and it fell to Griezmann, who poked the ball home.
France sensed the final was near and capably held the 2-0 lead. Germany made personnel and tactical changes to little effect in the final 20 minutes. France’s fans grew louder as the magnitude of the event set in.
France’s glory years ended with a loss to Italy in the 2006 World Cup final. We’ll learn Sunday whether a new dawn of a triumphant France is upon us.
Here’s how France toppled Germany.
Schweinsteiger too experienced?
Despite having played more Euro and World Cup games than anyone else, Schweinsteiger was a risk. The 31-year-old has struggled with form and fitness since the World Cup. He played well for 40-plus minutes in the first half, but his mistaken handball cost Germany the game.
Soccer can be cruel, even to legends.
Who needs possession?
Germany dominated possession, but France had more shots on target (seven to six) and took its chances better. That’s the name of the game at this level.
France’s new hero
French people have started calling Griezmann “Grizou” — a reference to Zinedine Zidane or “Zizou.” Griezmann has scored six goals at Euro 2016.
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo must score a hat trick in the final to catch Griezmann for Golden Boot honors. Griezmann perhaps is just as likely to equal Michel Platini’s record than Ronaldo is to catch France’s man of the moment.
Zidane … Platini … Griezmann.
Germany was fully loaded when it won the World Cup. Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker retired following the triumph, and Germany replaced them with up-and-coming talent.
But with Mats Hummels suspended, Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez injured and Thomas Muller misfiring, Joachim Low’s side lacked the experience and nous to overcome France amid adversity.
The unforgiving sands of time ended Germany’s reign and paved the way for a new France team to join their famous forefathers.
Thumbnail photo via YouTube/UEFA.tv
Thumbnail photo via France topples Germany in Euro 2016 semifinals