As had been the case in 2012, Germany would kick off their footballing year against France – the second in two pre-arranged friendly encounters between the two sides. In Bremen the French had gone away with a 2-1 win against an ordinary and sluggish German side, but this time around the result would be reversed as the Nationalmannshchaft finally broke a long-standing hoodoo against their western neighbours.
It would be the first victory for the German senior side against France since 1987, and their first win in France since 1935. To put things in perspective, the majority of the current side were not even born when Rudi Völler netted a brace to secure a 2-1 win for the then West Germany.
Unlike the bore-draw against the Netherlands that provided a suitable postscript to a disappointing 2012 for Joachim Löw’s side, this match-up in Paris proved to be an exciting encounter between two positive teams and an excellent advert for the game – more so given the news about betting scandals that had stolen all of the headlines earlier in the week.
With both sides looking to attack, a German side shorn of five first-choice players were more than a match for the skilful home team; although the French could have considered themselves unlucky to lose by the odd goal in three, Germany would be well worth their victory with a positive high-tempo approach, two excellently-crafted goals and a number of outstanding performances.
Facts and Stats
This would be the twenty-fifth meeting between the Nationalmannschaft and Les Bleus, with the Germans having won eight (including the famous World Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out in Seville in 1982), the French eleven, with eight draws. The French had not tasted defeat since that 1987 meeting in West Berlin, and since then had won five and drawn one of the six matches played.
At the Stade de France the Germans had not even managed to get on the scoresheet, with Rudi Völler’s side losing 1-0 in 2001 and Jürgen Klinsmann’s charges ekeing out a goalless draw in 2005. The Mannschaft’s record in France had been particularly woeful, with a win-draw-loss record of 1-2-7; their sole victory had come back in 1935, when Otto Nerz’s side triumphed 3-1.
The Team and Tactics
In the days before the match there would be a string of withdrawals from the squad, with midfield general Bastian Schweinsteiger, and BVB starlets Mario Götze, Marco Reus and Marcel Schmelzer dropping out early in the week. Their exit would be followed by that of veteran striker Miroslav Klose, leaving the coach with one man up front in the form of the arguably unfit and out-of-form Mario Gómez.
Rather than bring in a replacement striker, the coach instead added a further defensive midfielder in the form of Bayer Leverkusen’s Sven Bender.
Regular ‘keeper Manuel Neuer would be rested as the returning René Adler made his first appearance in a national team Trikot since 2010, the defence would be the same as against the Dutch as Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels lined up in the centre with skipper Philipp Lahm out on the right and makeshift left-back Benedikt Höwedes once again getting the nod ahead of Jérôme Boateng.
The absence of Schweinsteiger, Götze and Reus coupled with the return of Real Madrid duo Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil would see something of a shuffle in midfield: Khedira would join BVB’s İlkay Gündoğan to form yet another defensive midfield combination, while Özil would slot back into his familiar playmaker position. Thomas Müller would occupy the right flank and Lukas Podolski would once again be selected ahead of André Schürrle out on the left, with the recalled Gómez would be the sole attacker.
With Gómez up front the team would fall into the familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, but the absence of any suitable replacement on the bench would mean that things would get interesting should the coach to replace the FC Bayern striker. Would Müller, Podolski or Schürrle slot in, or would the coach revert to a strikerless system?
In stark contrast to the game in Amsterdam things would start off at a frenetic pace, with both sides looking to attack and maintain what was a high tempo. The crowd of 75,000 would be entertained as the play switched from end to end, but both sides would fail to deliver the final killer ball at either end. The best opportunity in open play would fall to the hosts when Karim Benzema was put through, but Adler would time the charge of his line perfectly to snuff out the chance. At the other end Mertesacker would have the best chance for the visitors, with his header from right-sided corner being brilliantly tipped over the crossbar by Hugo Lloris.
The opening goal just before half-time would be a cruel break for the visitors, but once again the defence would be at fault when Benzema’s excellent free kick came back out into open play after crashing against the crossbar. With everyone looking at either the floor or each other – in other words, everything but the ball – it was in the end fairly easy for Moussa Sissoko to set up Mathieu Valbuena who was able to steal into the six yard box and head home.
The second half would start in the same way as the first had ended, with both sides looking to press. The French had looked marginally more dangerous in the opening five minutes, but after winning the ball in midfield the excellent Gündoğan played a lovely ball out to Thomas Müller, who dinked the ball over the advancing Lloris to level the scores.
Things would change even more when the coach made his first change, replacing the ineffective Gómez with midfielder Toni Kroos: rather than see one of the attacking midfielders move up the field, the team adopted a more fluid approach with all three taking turns to drive the team forward. The biggest threat was the excellent Özil, but without the need to hunt for a target up front both Müller and Podolski were able to get further forward and hassle the opposition back line.
Podolski would be the most disappointing of this rejigged attacking trio, and his replacement with the sprightly Schürrle would see even better movement by the Germans in the middle of the field. Both Khedira and Gündoğan were also joining in, and while the defence still looked slightly shaky against the numerous French counter-attacks, the midfield were looking good value for a second goal – and so it proved.
It would a moment of magic from Özil that would produce the winner: after picking up the ball from Read Madrid team mate Khedira, the midfield maestro conjured up a magnificent through ball that sliced open the blue wall. Khedira had continued his run, and his smart finish was a fitting end to a typically swift German move.
The French would press for an equaliser right to the end, but were kept at bay my a mixture of poor positioning, bad luck and the excellent Adler who continued to maintain command of the penalty area. Try as they might, the hosts couldn’t breach the German defence for a second time, and the Mannschaft had secured the first victory against Les Bleus on their home turf for the first time in seventy-eight years.
Conclusion and Ratings
Overall this was an entertaining and enjoyable match, with both sides playing their part. The French were always dangerous – particularly through the dangerous Franck Ribéry – but the visitors were excellent in the middle of the field, with Özil, Müller and Gündoğan making the strongest impression. Özil was all over the field and at the centre of things and Müller capped off an energetic performance with a fine goal, but stand out performance for me would that of Gündoğan, who made the most of his chance to start in the absence of Schweinsteiger.
The Borussia Dortmund man showed plenty of skill and energy, but it was his hunger and desire that made the difference. He chased every fifty-fifty ball and was quick to close down his opponents. Nothing summed him Gündoğan’s game better than the equaliser, which came about as a result of his quick thinking, excellent challenge and even better final pass.
With the substitution of Gómez, the strikerless system would evolve almost organically. The team would look a whole lot better as it found a whole new shape, though it is hard to say whether this was down to the formation itself or their not having to focus on providing ammunition to a striker that was not even shooting blanks.
Things will probably need a little more tweaking, but with an abundance of midfield talent at his disposal – it is worth noting that the two biggest young talents in Reus and Götze were both absent – there is no reason why Löw cannot find the perfect formula in time for the 2014 World Cup finals.
An excellent performance from the Hamburger SV Torhüter. Dominated his penalty area, and produced a world-class save to deny Benzema in the first half. There are plenty of youngsters knocking at the door for the second slot behind Manuel Neuer, but Adler would have done himself no harm at all with this display.
A quiet game for the skipper at right-back, though he did manage to make a few runs and get behind the French defence. Performed his defensive duties admirably, more so as he had to contend with the movement and skill of his FC Bayern colleague Ribéry.
I have had my doubts about Mertesacker for a while, but the last couple of outings have changed my mind slightly. The move to England appears to have sharpened his game, and while he still may not be the most mobile centre-back around his tactical awareness and positioning are excellent. Was denied a goal in the first half when Lloris pulled off a world-class save.
Another defender with excellent footballing brain and spatial awareness, Hummels when on form is able to perform his duties efficiently and without any great fuss. Made a couple of excellent challenges including one at the closing stages, and looked unfazed throughout.
Drafted in at left-back, the Schalke 04 was never truly comfortable, but looked solid enough. The benefits to his game is his ability to break down the wing, but his being on his wrong side meant that he was never truly effective as a number of attempted crosses went awry. It might have been more prudent for the coach to play him on the right with Lahm on the left.
Quiet and effective as usual, Khedira brings a sense of stability to the midfield spine. Was effective going forward, and capped off yet another professional display with a well-taken third international goal following some great interplay with Real Madrid team mate Özil.
Energetic, committed – and with no little skill. Gündoğan was at the heels of the French all evening, and delivered a performance that makes him a genuine option as a first-team starter even with a fully-fit Schweinsteiger. Showed excellent commitment to win the ball in midfield, and delivered a fine pass to Müller to create the equalising goal. My Man of the Match.
There’s something about Müller that makes him a key component of this German team. Tireless, awkward, energetic, intelligent – he is the perfect team man even when he isn’t getting on the scoresheet. When he is scoring, he is indispensable. Capped off a great display with a well-executed goal. Substituted right at the end by Lars Bender.
An imperious performance by the midfield playmaker, who was at the top of his game. Bossed the midfield and combined excellently with those around him. Delivered the perfect slide-rule pass to set up Khedira for the winning goal – truly world-class.
Podolski has had a great season so far for Arsenal, and many were hoping that this would manifest itself in the Nationaltrikot. Unfortunately this was not to be, as he delivered yet another ordinary display. Replaced by André Schürrle with just over twenty minutes remaining.
Gómez has been unable to get a regular first-team slot at Bayern after a long lay off through injury, and it showed. He appeared to be completely disconnected from the play, and never had a sniff of a chance. Replaced by Toni Kroos just before the hour mark.
Came on for Gómez just short of the hour mark, and immediately slotted in as the team assumed a new shape. Combined well with those around him, but was more solid than spectacular.
Replaced Lukas Podolski, and made the most of his twenty-odd minutes on the pitch. Slotted in with the reshaped formation, showed good pace and managed to get a shot on goal.
Came on right at the death as the coach allowed Müller the chance to get to the changing room first.
Adler (3), Lahm (3), Mertesacker (3), Hummels (2), Höwedes (3), Khedira (3), Gündoğan (2), Müller (2), Özil (2), Podolski (4), Gómez (5).
Adler (2), Lahm (3.5), Mertesacker (2.5), Hummels (3.5), Höwedes (4.5), Khedira (3), Gündoğan (2,5), Müller (1.5), Özil (2), Podolski (5), Gómez (5).
Adler (2.5), Lahm (3), Mertesacker (3), Hummels (2.5), Höwedes (3.5), Khedira (3), Gündoğan (1.5), Müller (2), Özil (2), Podolski (4.5), Gómez (5).