World champions Germany meet hosts France in the second of the Euro 2016 semi-finals.
Jul 7 Germany v France (Stade Velodrome, Marseilles, 9pm)
France will hope to defeat Germany in a competitive match for the first time since 1958 when they meet in Marseille on Thursday night.
Portugal, comfortable victors over Wales on Wednesday night, meet the winners of a match that features arguably the two most impressive performers at Euro 2016.
Hosts France, with 11 goals, are the leading scorers at the tournament while Germany have never looked in any danger as they have cruised to what must feel like their rightful place in the semi-finals of a major tournament.
Germany coach Joachim Low acknowledged that free-scoring France’s principal strength at Euro 2016 has been their attacking play.
“In attack, France have been very flexible, which creates a lot of pressure – not just in the penalty area but also in midfield with [Paul] Pogba and [Blaise] Matuidi,” said the World Cup-winning coach. “They take their chances, and they have three strikers at the top of the goal rankings. They’ll attack very aggressively; they’re the hosts and their attack has been very good – it’s been their strength so far.
“We have to play as a unit and help each other; we must be compact in defence. If we give them space they’ll be very quick and very dynamic, and that would make it very difficult for us.
Germany come into the game in the midst of a personnel crisis. Defender Mats Hummels is suspended while both Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez miss out through injury. A boost, though, came with the news that Bastian Schweinsteiger has shrugged off a knee injury and will start tonight.
“Schweinsteiger trained this morning at 100%.,” confirmed Low. “He’s very important for us in a game like this – mainly because of his experience. He will be in the starting XI; I said from the beginning that if he could take part in the last training session, he would play. We have to replace Hummels, Khedira and Gomez and that’s not easy, so Schweinsteiger’s experience is even more important.
“We have to compensate for the players who can’t play. I trust their replacements 100% and I hope it won’t disturb our style of play. We’ll be the strongest opposition France have had so far and we’ll give our all to reach the final.”
Low predicts an evenly contested encounter, but a more open game than Germany’s quarter-final game against Italy.
“The match will be similar to 2014 (Germany beat France 1-0 at Brazil 2014); France are at a very high level,” he said. “There’ll be more chances in this match than there were in Germany-Italy. Every side has weaknesses; no one is perfect. The last match against Iceland was impressive, but we saw a couple of weaknesses, and it’ll be important to use those.
“I don’t think we’re favourites – we’re not playing a team, we’re playing a whole country. After beating Iceland, they’re very confident. There’s a real momentum after beating Iceland, but being favourites doesn’t count for anything. It’s who performs better, who creates more chances and who takes those chances.”
France coach Didier Deschamps, spoke respectfully about tonight’s opponents, saying they look the strongest team in the competition.
“Germany are always used to dominating the opposition, hogging the ball, but we can’t think about simply defending and trying to catch them out,” said Deschamps. “We simply have to play to the best of our ability. Germany are the world champions and they’ve given the best impression here over the first five matches.
“We have to score goals and we don’t just have to beat Manuel Neuer, although he’s an excellent goalkeeper. They don’t concede goals even though they attack a lot, which just goes to show all the quality in Germany’s side. They have an excellent defensive shape – we saw that against Italy. When they lost the ball they chased and harried to win it back, and that allowed them to control the match.
Deschamps is mindful of Germany’s impressive record in major competitions, but said his players, backed by a fervent home crowd, would not be intimidated in the Stade Velodrome.
“No one can change history, but there are new chapters to be written,” he noted. “This page is blank and it’s up to the players to fill it. The players must have belief in themselves and we need the crowd to get behind them too. We’re playing the best side in the world but we’re going to give it all we have.
“We can’t compete with Germany in terms of caps or trophies, but we’re here because we have qualities. We have the ability to create opportunities and score goals. We can create danger for the opposition, and that’s very exciting to me.
“We’ll have the crowd right behind us and we’ll need that – there’s going to be some tough times during the match. We’re supported all over the country, but it’s a bit more expressive here!
“I have faith in these players; we haven’t done everything brilliantly so far but we’ve knocked out five teams. Now it’s another story altogether. We’re playing Germany, the best side in the competition and if we put in a big performance against them, it will create a real buzz.”
Looking at past encounters between the two teams, history definitely favours Germany – at least in the matches that matter.
The countries have met 27 times, Germany recording nine wins to France’s 12. Their four games at major tournaments have ended in one win for France, a draw and two Germany victories.
The drawn game also went Germany’s way in what is regarded as one of the all-time classic World Cup matches. West Germany won 5-4 on penalties after a 3-3 draw in the semi-finals at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain.
Four years later the teams met at the same stage in Mexico, West Germany triumphing 2-0 in Mexico.
The most recent meeting was two years ago in Brazil when Germany again prevailed, this time in a 1-0 victory on their way to their World Cup success.
Germany will be without striker Mario Gomez after the forward was ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a hamstring injury.
Schweinsteiger was passed fit on the eve of the match, but fellow midfielder Khedira has been ruled out while Hummels is suspended after picking up a yellow card in the quarter-final against Italy.
France, meanwhile, have no suspensions and welcome back both N’Golo Kante and Adil Rami from their bans. However, neither man is expected to start against Germany with Samuel Umtiti expected to keep his place at centre-back, while Moussa Sissoko will keep his place in central midfield.
Germany: Neuer; Kimmich, Boateng, Höwedes, Hector; Kroos, Schweinsteiger; Draxler, Özil, Götze; Müller.
France: Lloris; Sagna, Umtiti, Koscielny, Evra; Pogba, Matuidi; Sissoko, Griezmann, Payet; Giroud.
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Ita)