All good things have to come to an end. Germany had come into their Euro semi-final against hosts France with more than a degree of confidence after their dramatic quarter-final victory over (former) bogey team Italy, but in the end it was a case of one step too far on an evening that everything seemed to conspire against them. A harsh penalty, a crucial injury, and inspired goalkeeper at the other end – it was the full house.
Germany had finally drawn a line under the long-standing Italian curse, but less than a week later found themselves shunted out of the tournament by a French team also up against the tides of history. Les Bleus had not beaten die Mannschaft in a major tournament since the World Cup in Sweden in 1958 – but as that match was just the third-place play-off, one could say that the 2-0 victory in Marseille was France’s first-ever win over their neighbours in a tournament match that was actually meaningful.
Jogi Löw’s team did everything that was asked of them – well, everything except score a goal. A distinct lack of firepower and variation up front ultimately proved to be their downfall, and having threatened to overrun the hosts completely in the first half, the Germans were undone by two moments of madness. Or one moment of controversy and a catalogue of errors, dependent on your interpretation of events.
The German Nationaltrainer made it pretty clear after the match that the better team had lost on the night, and most of the international media were in agreement. Even many French commentators appeared to accept that their team had managed to gather up all of the available luck that was on offer.
But this is football, sadly. Germany just couldn’t find a way of unlocking the French defence and beating the inspired Hugo Lloris, while at the other end nearly everything went the hosts’ way. Another crazy handball penalty on the cusp of half time gave France a shot in the arm that was hardly merited, before a series of defensive errors gifted Les Bleus with a second goal in the second half.
It was one of those rare evenings for Germany, but nobody can begrudge the hosts, who did just what they had to do. For all their dominance, style and craft, the Germans couldn’t finish the job; France, meanwhile, made the most of the few chances they were given. It is fair to say that while the Mannschaft were largely dominant yet blunt, the French were for the most part skittish, but clinical when it really mattered in front of goal.
Unlike in 2012, the coach did everything right. The tactics were sound, he made the most of the shrinking resources at his disposal, and managed the team excellently during the match, even in the face of more painfully unfortunate injury woes. This time, it was just not to be.
As the French say, c’est la vie. Or rather, VDM.
Facts and Stats
We all knew about the records coming into this match: France had not beaten Germany in a competitive international for fifty-eight years since their 6-3 win in Sweden in 1958, while Germany had not lost a semi-final to a host nation since the same tournament, when they were beaten 3-1 by a the Swedes in Göteborg.
France, meanwhile, had not lost a home tournament match since 1960 – a 2-0 defeat by Czechoslovakia. They had also won their last two tournaments at home – Euro 1984 and the World Cup in 1998.
You can see the more extensive look at the pre-match stats in the semi-final preview.
Injuries to both Mario Gómez and Sami Khedira and the suspension of Mats Hummels meant that the German coach would have to put together an all-new starting eleven, but there were more than a few raised eyebrows when we saw Bastian Schweinsteiger on the team sheet with both Emre Can – making his first tournament appearance – and Toni Kroos.
Elsewhere it was a matter of moving the pieces around.
Benedikt Höwedes came in as a straight swap at centre-back for the suspended Hummels alongside Jérôme Boateng with Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector outside, while up front the recalled Julian Draxler was alongside Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller.
It was technically a 4-3-3, but in reality a formation designed to be flexible. Schweinsteiger was there to help out at the back where necessary, while Der Raumdeuter Müller was expected to cover the roving false nine (or even a proper nine) role up front. That he achieved neither was probably one of the biggest problems on the night.
After a bright start from the French that saw German keeper Manuel Neuer dive well to his left to deny danger man Antoine Griezmann, Germany gradually started to assert themselves – to the point where they were completely dominant. The French were unable to keep the ball, the challenges were timely from the Germans whenever they lost possession, and for long spells Didier Deschamps‘ side were being suffocated by the men in white.
Can had Germany’s first shot on goal – forcing Lloris into an excellent save – but for all their possession and territorial dominance Jogi Löw’s side were unable to create anything tangible in the final third. Crosses were either blocked or flew well over the danger area, set pieces were poor, and both Draxler and Müller found it hard to find a path towards goal.
Germany’s biggest attacking threat was Özil, but for all the playmaker’s brilliance, his effectiveness was effectively nullified with the absence of a properly effective target man in front of him. Schweinsteiger meanwhile was playing like a Trojan at the back and Kroos was again dictating the tempo in the middle of the park, but the maestro could only find one rhythm.
Kroos himself was clearly fouled at the edge of the box, but Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli simply waved play on. Then there was a glut of yellow cards being brandished at German players, while the French were seemingly getting away with murder.
Then came that dramatic, game-changing moment. Having dominated the first half, Germany’s team talk at the break should have been about consolidating their control and pressing on to win the match. Instead, the team found themselves a goal down as the match was turned completely on its head.
The debate will surely go on about the controversial penalty that allowed the listing French ship to be hauled upright. While the decision from the Italian referee was technically correct and in line with the absolute letter of the law, it was clearly harsh. None of the players on either side even knew what was going on, and it would only dawn on the rest of us when Schweinsteiger was shown the yellow card and Griezmann stepped up to drill the kick past Neuer.
Would the referee have awarded a spot-kick at the other end? What had driven UEFA to appoint an Italian official, straight after his countrymen had been eliminated by Germany? These are questions we will probably keep asking. And while the decision was arguably harsh, what was a player as experienced as Schweinsteiger doing with his arms in the air? Just days after Jérôme Boateng had been called for a similar offense, too.
We could even go back to the corner that allowed the entire grisly scene to play out in the first place; Jonas Hector had knocked the ball behind while under no pressure whatsoever, and one has to wonder nobody shouted out to him. He could easily have just let the ball roll off for a goal kick; No pressure, no corner, no silly handball, no goal.
The second half started off much like the first, with Germany weathering a French storm before taking control yet again. The story was much the same. Plenty of possession, but nothing beyond that. The departure of Boateng just after the hour mark was clearly a sign that there was not going to be a happy ending, and there was a sense of inevitability about France’s second goal.
A mix-up between Höwedes and Kimmich, Boateng’s replacement Shkodran Mustafi being made to look like a tailor’s dummy by Paul Pogba, and a poor flat at the ball by Neuer which happened to land right at the feet of the lurking Griezmann. It was the first goal conceded by the Mannschaft in open play during the entire tournament – almost ten hours of football.
Germany have acquired a reputation in the international football world as comeback kings, and they didn’t go down meekly. But as they threw everything and the kitchen sink at their opponents, the signs were clear. Kimmich crashed a shot against the outside of the far post with Lloris beaten, and the Germans were even denied a consolation when the FC Bayern youngster’s firm header was palmed away by the French ‘keeper.
Conclusions and Ratings
A match full of what ifs and what could have beens. What if Hector had not pushed the ball over for a corner? What if Schweinsteiger had kept his hands down? What if Gómez had been fit? What if Müller had been able to find even 25% of his best tournament form? We can just keep asking these questions and still get no decent answers.
Unlike in 2012, there was nothing wrong with the coach’s tactics. He played every card correctly, but simply did not have the resources to execute the plan properly. Germany dominated the game for long spells, but were simply incapable of administering the killer blow.
After two rather flat encounters against Ukraine and Poland in the group phase, tactical changes and introduction of Gómez had provided attitude spark up front, and the big striker’s injury in the quarter-final would prove to be a telling blow. With no other specialist number nine available the coach had to made do with what he had, but in the end it wasn’t quite enough.
Made a strong start with a good early save to deny Griezmann, but apart from a couple of simple free-kick stops had a fairly quiet evening between the sticks. Well, until the 72nd minute when his badly mistimed flap at Pogba’s cross presented Griezmann with the perfect opportunity to score France’s second.
Another strong performance from the youngster, who on another night could have scored a couple himself, hitting the post with one shot and forcing Hugo Lloris into fine save with a bullet header late on in the piece. Was energetic going forward, but was unable to make anything count. However, his performance will always be remembered for the defensive lapse that resulted in the second French goal.
A strong performance from the big central defender, particularly with the absence of usual partner Mats Hummels. Kept control of the back line, but was forced off through injury just after the hour mark and replaced by Shkodran Mustafi. Boateng has arguably been the Mannschaft’s best player at this tournament, and his presence was sorely missed.
The Schalke 04 skipper has never been the fastest out of the blocks, but more than performed his role at centre-back. Was not quite in the mould of Hummels going forward and looked suspect at times, but pulled off an heroic tackle to foil Olivier Giroud late on in the first half.
The 1. FC Köln man was more than adequate at the back, but less effective than usual going forward. Was unable to send one even remotely testing cross into the French box, but then this could be attributed to the lack of a decent target man more than anything else.
Played brilliantly in the first half, making a number of excellent tackles as the Mannschaft controlled the game completely and threatened to overrun the hosts. Then came his careless handball and the late first half penalty. The skipper’s game faded badly after that, and he made way for Leroy Sané just over ten minutes from time.
The Liverpool man showed plenty of determination and strength in his first and only match of the tournament, but threatened to let it go to his head at times. Was solid without providing the subtlety of a Sami Khedira or a fit İlkay Gündoğan, and had a decent shot on goal early on. Made way for Mario Götze as the coach looked to chase the game.
Was as creative as usual with his control and distribution, completely bossing the middle of the park and looking like he had the ball attached to him like a piece of string at times. However, for all of the possession and control Kroos was unable to engineer much in the final third.
More than played his part in Germany’s first half dominance, but once again was unable to reproduce the high quality that has made him so dangerous in World Cups. Had a few half chances but was unable to make anything of them, and a dreadful scuffed effort in the second half summed up what was a very disappointing tournament for der Raumdeuter.
Was the Mannschaft’s most creative force going forward, but his energy and spark were both blunted by the lack of a dedicated target man in front of him. Was the undoubted star of the first half, as Germany suffocated the French without quite being able to slice them open.
Not the best game in the Nationaltrikot for the Wolfsburg man, who was controlled well by the French defence. Despite getting forward Draxler showed little confidence in one-on-ones, and sent one effort on goal narrowly wide.
Replaced Boateng after sixty-one minutes, and was easily beaten by Pogba as France set up their second goal. Sent in a decent cross right near the end that was almost finished off by Kimmich.
Replaced Can after sixty-seven minutes as the coach looked to find an eqauliser, and was never able to make an impression. Sent a shot narrowly wide late on, but offered little in the way of an attacking threat.
Came on for Schweinsteiger with just over ten minutes left, and almost scored with his first shot that was deflected narrowly wide. The Schalke 04 youngster showed plenty of energy and enthusiasm, but was unable to make much of an impression after that.
Neuer (4), Kimmich (5), Boateng (3), Höwedes (2), Hector (4), Schweinsteiger (4), Can (3), Kroos (3), Özil (3), Draxler (4), Müller (4)
Neuer (3), Kimmich (3.5), Boateng (3), Höwedes (2.5), Hector (3.5), Schweinsteiger (4.5), Can (4), Kroos (3), Özil (2.5), Draxler (4), Müller (4)
Neuer (4), Kimmich (3), Boateng (3), Höwedes (3), Hector (3), Schweinsteiger (4.5), Can (3), Kroos (2.5), Özil (2), Draxler (4), Müller (5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Mustafi (5), Götze (5)