The Anaconda and the Asp: Brilliant but blunt Germany beaten by clinical France

On the 42nd anniversary of Germany’s World Cup victory in Munich in 1974, the Mannschaft resume their Euro 2016 campaign in Marseille. It is the much-anticipated semi-final of the Euros, with hosts France providing the opposition. After their 2-0 win over Wales in the other semi, Portugal await the winners of what is expected to be a classic encounter in the warm south of France.

After changing the formation before the quarter-final against Italy, Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw has switched things around again. Changes had been expected following the suspension of central defender Mats Hummels and injuries to striker Mario Gómez and defensive midfield general Sami Khedira, but having recovered to full fitness Bastian Schweinsteiger is back in the starting lineup to lead team out as captain. It is his thirty-eighth match in major tournament finals – a new world record.

In the long and steady buildup to the match, the talk was all about Schweinsteiger not being fit to start – leading to the discussion of one of Emre Can or Julian Weigl taking his place alongside Toni Kroos. With Schweinsteiger being fit, one might have thought that it was a case of problem solved… Only for the Maharishi Jogi to hurl another one of his famous curveballs. The skipper is back in, and Can too – creating what looks a three-man defensive midfield unit.

Further up the field, Julian Draxler is back to start – and it looks like Thomas Müller is playing false nine… Or is it a real nine? This looks like a 4-3-3, but could also be a 4-3-2-1 with Müller up top. Or even a conventional 4-2-3-1 if Kroos moves into the hole with Draxler and Mesut Özil out on the wings.

This is what I described as the “elastic” formation – something has has in the past proved to be either a real big hit or a bad, awful miss.

France meanwhile look as though they are playing a 4-2-3-1, with the tournament’s four-goal leading scorer Antoine Griezmann the biggest threat. Alongside him is plenty of firepower, with Dmitri Payet and Olivier Giroud having bagged three goals apiece. The creative danger is in the middle of the pitch, with the in-form Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi running the show.

The weak area that Germany will be looking to exploit is the French defence. The inexperienced Samuel Umtiti will almost certainly be targeted, and elder statesman Patrice Evra will surely be tested.

It is an electric atmosphere in the Stade Vélodrome, and despite being outnumbered the German supporters are in good voice for the Nationalhymne. The familiar strains of La Marseillaise follows, and we are all set to go. It is Germany’s twentieth semi-final in the last twenty-six tournaments. Rather curiously – well, I think it is more than a little curious – the man in the middle is Italian Nicola Rizzoli – a strange appointment given that Germany have just knocked his countrymen out of the tournament. Is this going to have any bearing on what is to come? Surely not.

1 min.The Italian referee blows his whistle, and Didier Deschamps’ side get things underway. The home side are in blue shirts, blue shorts and red socks, and the Mannschaft are in their equally familiar Schwarz und Weiß.

2 mins. The French have made a bright and energetic start, and are looking up for this. Jérôme Boateng gives ‘keeper Manuel Neuer some early work to do with a sketchy backpass, and moments later the speedy Payet forces Can to put the ball behind for a corner. It is taken short, goes nowhere, and Germany clear.

4 mins. Jérôme Boateng sends a long ball in towards the danger area, but French ‘keeper Hugo Lloris collects easily.

6 mins. Germany are struggling to get out of their own half at the moment, and Les Bleus are well on top.

7 mins. Some great movement between Matuidi and Griezmann, who forces the first opening of the match, and creates the space get a shot in. It is on target, and Manuel Neuer dives well to his left to make the save. Griezmann looks to chase down the rebound, but cannot quite get there and the danger is cleared.

11 mins. Özil slips down the middle at pace, finding Joshua Kimmich out on the right. The youngster looks to get behind the French defence, but his cross his blocked by Evra.

13 mins. A lovely ball from Kimmich releases Can, whose low cross back inside finds Müller. It is a half-chance for Der Raumdeuter, who can’t get enough on it. The ball skids wide of the target, and is too far away for the advancing Draxler.

14 mins. After their slightly rocky start, Germany are seeing a lot more of the ball now. Finding space on the left, Draxler sends in a sharp ball back inside for Can, whose left-footed snapshot is just inside the post and well saved by Lloris.

17 mins. Payet looks to use his pace to get past Kimmich, who does well to get in front of the West Ham man and win the ball before being fouled himself. Excellent play for the youngster, who appears to be getting better with each game.

18 mins. Another neat buildup, but Draxler’s pass goes astray.

19 mins. After withstanding the initial onslaught, Germany are keeping the ball well now. Özil ball into the box is headed away by his Arsenal team mate Laurent Koscielny.

20 mins. A first corner for Germany, but it is easily cleared by Koscielny. Moussa Sissoko has space down the left as France look to launch a counterattack, but Schweinsteiger is quickly on him to quell the danger.

21 mins. The other end, Kroos looks as though he is clipped both at the edge of the box and inside by Pogba, but the referee waves play on. There are claims for a penalty as the German number eighteen is knocked off his stride by the clumsy French midfielder, but there was a definite ankle clip just outside the box. There is no reason Signor Rizzoli should not have seen that.

23 mins. Payet tumbles easily under pressure from Schweinsteiger, and France win a free-kick some thirty yards out. Payet steps up himself to take the kick; his shot is over the wall and on target, but Neuer makes it look easy with a confident catch.

25 mins. Played into space by Kimmich, Can wins a smart corner with a crafty backheel that comes off Matuidi.

26 mins. More pressure from the men in white, and the move finishes with a long-range effort from Schweinsteiger. It looks as though it is going over, but Lloris makes sure. Özil’s corner is calmly collected by the French ‘keeper.

28 mins. Under pressure from a German team that has finally gained command, France are starting to make some elementary mistakes. The Mannschaft are winning the ball back quickly, and Kroos is starting to exercise some real control in the middle of the pitch. Schweinsteiger is also looking on top of his game, closing down opponents and winning the ball.

32 mins. Another dangerous cross from Kimmich floats just over Müller and reaches Draxler, who cannot get a firm boot on it. Müller is lurking, but the blue shirt of Umtiti is there first and France clear. Might Mario Gómez have got a head on that cross? These are the sorts of questions we will no doubt be asking if things don’t quite work out tonight.

35 mins. Özil floats in another teasing ball into the box, but it is easy for Lloris. Germany are finding things so easy right now. Too easy, perhaps. They are looking a little like Spain in 2010 – like a boa constrictor or anaconda. Smothering, stifling, squeezing, strangling. All we need now is a goal to put a proper stamp on all of the hard work and dominance.

36 mins. Griezmann is bundled over by Can, who is booked. The Liverpool man is not happy with the decision, but Müller calms him down. The free-kick is just over twenty-five yards from the German goal; Pogba’s shot is struck well enough and on target, but Neuer is again right behind it.

38 mins. Benedikt Höwedes is deep in the French half, but loses the ball. The French look to break, but the move breaks down.

39 mins. Matuidi gives the ball away, and Müller has a chance to run at the French goal. With no support and blue shirts closing in, he fires a low shot from just outside the box that is easily collected by Lloris.

40 mins. Another corner for Germany, and Schweinsteiger goes down in the box. There’s some light contact, but that would have been harsh. Play on, says Signor Rizzoli.

41 mins. France move swiftly down the left, and Evra finds Griezmann who finds the side netting.

42 mins. The home side break quickly through Giroud, who has Griezmann to his right. Giroud looks to do the work himself, but Höwedes is able to make up the ground before executing the perfect sliding tackle just as the French striker is about to pull the trigger. That was simply outstanding from the Schalke 04 skipper.

43 mins. Kroos is buffeted off the ball by Evra, who is booked.

45 mins. There are two minutes of additional time, and Evra sends an awkward-looking cross into the German penalty area, and Jonas Hector goes for safety first and puts it behind for a corner. It should really have been cleared easily, but Hector has no idea who or what is behind him.

45+1 mins. The corner is swung in, and Germany clear it away. The referee is up to something however, and waves the yellow card at Schweinsteiger. Nobody knows what is going on, but it looks like a handball decision has been called against the German captain. Having put the card back in his top pocket, Signor Rizzoli points to the penalty spot. This is, quite frankly, unbelievable. Schweinsteiger if anything was looking to protect his face from Evra’s elbow, only for the ball to deflect onto his arm from the Frenchman’s head? Hand to ball? No chance. Deliberate handball? No way.

The ball strikes Bastian Schweinsteiger’s arm, and moments later referee Nicola Rizzoli signals for a penalty to France

45+2 mins. No point arguing now. France have a penalty, and the ball is already waiting on the spot. Griezmann steps up to take the kick, and sends the ball into the right side of the net as Neuer dives the wrong way. 0-1. The whistle blows for half time.

What a half, and what a horrible blow. A bright start by the hosts, then some expert smothering and suffocation by the Mannschaft as they took complete control of the game. At times they were looking like Spain in 2010, but the only thing lacking was a goal. In the end, it took a bizarre decision from the referee to turn things completely on their head. The French ship had been listing badly, but has been hauled back upright. Yes, by the strictest letter of the law it was a penalty: the ball clearly brushed Schweinsteiger’s hand. But would a penalty have been awarded if it had been a French hand in their own penalty area? I have my doubts.

On the other hand (no pun intended), one could ask why a player so experienced, like Boateng the other night against Italy, would need to throw his arms in the air. Nevertheless, I will stand by my initial opinion: the decision was harsh. This would have been the case even if the decision had been made at the other end.

It turns out that in the fracas that took place after the penalty decision, Mesut Özil also had his name taken by Rizzoli. It has been an entertaining game, but as the two teams make their way off the pitch it is the Italian official who is the undisputed star of the show.

47 mins. Germany kick off the second half. France have started the brighter however, and Giroud looks to get a shot on but is well marshalled by Boateng who blocks the Frenchman’s shot.

49 mins. Draxler takes advantage of an error by Koscielny and dances towards the edge of the French box, but Umtiti is there to clear the danger for the home side. Müller is waiting for the ball, the the Frenchman’s interception is excellent.

50 mins. Draxler is right in the thick of it at the moment, and is the fourth German player to be booked as he fouls Sissoko. That one did look like a foul.

52 mins. Some lovely play from Özil who executes a lovely turn, before finding Jonas Hector in space on the left. The Köln man looks to get the ball back into the danger zone, but Umtiti is there to intercept.

56 mins. Just as in the first half, Jogi Löw’s men have withstood some early French pressure to start controlling the play again.

58 mins. Özil sends a long looping ball forward, but there’s too much on it for Hector who fails in his attempt to bring it back under control.

59 mins. No, no, no. Boateng has pulled up sharply after making a clearance, and it is not looking good. Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt and another member of the medical help the big man off the pitch, and it looks like his evening is over.

61 mins. It is confirmed. Boateng cannot continue, and Shkodran Mustafi is on. It is all backs to the wall now, with a completely new and untested central defensive partnership.

62 mins. Kroos shows some deft touches, but there are too many blue shirts in the way. Boateng meanwhile is on the bench, cutting a truly sad figure with a towel draped over his head. As if the injury problems were not enough; it looks like it is going to be one of those evenings for the Mannschaft.

65 mins. Payet gets a ball hard in the face, and Germany sportingly put the ball into touch when they might have pressed on. The Frenchman is looking a little groggy, but is good to continue.

67 mins. The first big roll of the dice from the Nationaltrainer now. Mario Götze is on for Can.

69 mins. A retaken corner for the Mannschaft, and Rizzoli pipes up for a free-kick to France when Koscielny falls over under no pressure at all from Müller. It is all starting to get a little wearing now. Making harsh eagle-eyed penalty decisions is one thing, but whistling for imaginary fouls?

70 mins. Germany win a free-kick some thirty-five yards out, and Kroos’s floated ball is headed well over by Mustafi. Who is flagged for offside anyway.

71 mins. France make their first change of the evening, with N’Golo Kanté replacing Payet.

72 mins. Well, there was a sense of inevitability about that. There’s a bad mix-up at the back between Höwedes and Kimmich, and Pogba intercepts before taking the ball towards the byline. The Juventus man holds the play up brilliantly and then sidesteps a static Mustafi, earning enough space to get a cross in. The ball floats into the box and is weakly flapped away by Neuer, who could just as easily have left it alone. In a game that has been about lucky breaks, the ball falls right at the feet of Griezmann, who stabs it home through the ‘keeper’s legs. It is surely all over now. 0-2.

Manuel Neuer’s clearance arrives straight at the feet of Antoine Griezmann, who stabs home France’s second goal.

74 mins. It is looking like an increasingly lost cause, but Germany are still fighting for this. Özil charges at pace through the middle of the park, and finds Kimmich whose well-struck shot – with his wrong left foot – smashes off the outside of the left post.

76 mins. Kanté is booked for a foul on Draxler, and Germany have another twenty-five yard free-kick. It is straight off the training ground and left for Draxler, who smashes it hard but just wide.

78 mins. Another change for France. André-Pierre Gignac is on for Giroud.

79 mins. Leroy Sané is on for Schweinsteiger to make his first appearance of the tournament, and it is all hands to the pump now. Within seconds the Schalke 04 youngster has a chance with his first touch as he meets another dangerous Kroos cross, and the ball skids just wide of the target via a French defender.

80 mins. There’s an excellent opportunity for Germany to put themselves back in with a chance as the ball falls for Mustafi, but the central defender is unable to keep his shot down. Another chance gone. Would Boateng have buried that? What if, what if, what if.

82 mins. A free-kick out on the right, which is floated in expertly by the excellent Kroos. Höwedes is there to meet it with a firm header, but the ball flies narrowly over the crossbar. Jogi’s boys are cranking up the pressure, but have been unable to find that magic in the final third.

85 mins. Sissoko shows plenty of strength to beat Hector to the ball, and France continue to keep their opponents at bay. Five minutes to go now, and time is surely running out for the Mannschaft. Jogi Löw looking visibly frustrated on the touchline, showing all the pain of a coach who knows that nothing is going right for his team.

86 mins. Another mistake in midfield sends Griezmann away, but the tournament’s leading scorer runs out of ideas as he hits a shot straight at Neuer. He was clearly looking for his hat-trick there.

90 mins. There is no way through for the Germans, and Müller sums up his tournament with a badly overhit cross. Four minutes of additional time are signalled, but it is all over bar the shouting now. The crowd know it, and the stadium is shaking from the noise.

90+2 mins. Griezmann gets a standing ovation from the home crowd as he makes his way off for Yohan Cabaye.

90+3 mins. Proof that it was never going to be. Mustafi pings in a lovely cross and Kimmich is there to meet it firmly with his head, but Lloris flies to his left to keep it out. Moments later Götze has sight of goal, but his low right-footed effort skids across the face of the goal and wide.

90+5 mins. The final whistle blows.

It’s another semi-final defeat for the Mannschaft, and Les Bleus are in their third home final against Portugal on Sunday. Germany’s six-game run of semi-final victories against tournament hosts comes to an end, as does France’s record of not being able to beat Germany in a major tournament; interestingly, both of these records go back fifty-eight years, and the World Cup in Sweden in 1958.

The stands are a sea of blue and red, and the German players sink to the ground after missing out in at the semi-final stage for the second Euros in a row. Unlike in 2012 however, there are no massive regrets. The coach made the right calls, the team played their hearts out, but it was not to be. The late trail of injuries finally took their toll – capped off by the withdrawal of the talismanic Jérôme Boateng – and a mix of bad luck, a lack of firepower up front and an excellent French side proved to be too much.

Then there was Signor Rizzoli.

For all their quality and pressure, this German team were almost fated to fall short. They kept knocking on the door throughout, but lacked the ability to administer the final blow. Their opponents, on the other hand, had more dangerous weapons and used them just at the right time. In a way, it was like a heavyweight boxer taking on a fencer; it doesn’t matter how many punches you land if your opponent is armed with a sword and knows how to use it.

For long spells of the game, it looked like the German anaconda was going to strangle and squeeze the life out of the hosts. Germany were the better team on the night, and it would would be difficult to argue otherwise. In the end however, you win football matches bu scoring goals – and it was France’s extra cutting edge that proved to be the difference. The anaconda was bigger and arguably better, but the French asp was faster and sharper.

C’est la vie.

v France, Stade Vélodrome, Marseille, 07.07.2014

0-2 (0-1)
– / Griezmann pen 45.+2., 72.

Germany: Neuer – Kimmich, Höwedes, Boateng (61. Mustafi), Hector – Schweinsteiger (c) (79. Sané) – Can (67. Götze), Kroos – Draxler , Özil – Müller

France: Lloris (c) – Sagna, Koscielny, Umtiti, Evra – Pogba, Matuidi – Sissoko, Griezmann (90.+2. Cabaye), Payet (71. Kanté) – Giroud (78. Gignac)

Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)
Assistants: Elenito Di Liberatore (Italy), Mauro Tonolini (Italy)
Goal Assistants: Daniele Orsato (Italy), Antonio Damato (Italy)
Fourth Official: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
Reserve Assistant: Jure Praprotnik (Slovenia)
Referee Observer: Hugh Dallas (Scotland)

Yellow Cards: Evra, Kanté / Can, Schweinsteiger, Özil, Draxler
Red Cards: – / –

Ball Possession: 65% / 35%
Attempts on Target: 6 / 7
Attempts off Target: 6 / 4
Corners: 6 / 5
Fouls Committed: 8 / 12

Attendance: 64,078

Man of the Match: Antoine Griezmann (France)

The Anaconda and the Asp: Brilliant but blunt Germany beaten by clinical France

6 thoughts on “The Anaconda and the Asp: Brilliant but blunt Germany beaten by clinical France

  • Pingback:Schwarz und Weiß | Mannschaft saved at the death by supersub Stindl

  • July 12, 2016 at 21:40

    I couldn’t agree more Rick. It is certainly an area that Germany should look to addressing. The amount of centre forwards Germany produced through the years was astonishing – Seeler, Gerd, Fischer, Völler, Klinsmann, Bierhoff and Klose were all excellent forwards. If Germany can get back to forwards like that I’ll be very happy indeed!

  • July 10, 2016 at 19:35

    Great report Rick. I wish I bet on the result and more specifically the score. While got that right, I didn’t expect Germany to play so well. I thought the first few minutes are going to be the norm.

    I read your preview to the match and totally agree with the non-sense that previous records hold. However, what we all love about the game is that fact that you can’t predict it. Another element is the little things that make a difference. In 2010, Muller received a yellow card for handling the ball that came off the hand of Messi, and missed the SF with Spain. I still believe that had he been there, the result would have been so different.

    This time, Boateng handball against Italy resulted in a penalty that deprived us from finishing off Italy in 90 minutes. I’m sure we would have scored a second in the final few minutes with the Italians pushing out to equalize. I wonder how Boateng didn’t get a yellow card for the handball but Schweinsteiger did!!!

    Baoteng has saved our butt many times, and this is not to blame him, but rather to highlight how a little thing leads to something much bigger. Without that handball, we would have saved ourselves from additional 30 minutes of play and nerve recking match. Hummels, the MotM, wouldn’t have probably received his second yellow, and the confidence that the Germans would have left the match with would have been amazing. Beating Italy in regular time and yet to concede a goal in 5 matches.

    I agree that the penalty shouldn’t have been awarded. In fact, I don’t think that anyone would have spoken about it even as an incident. I felt that like in 2010, when the whole world saw the ball cross the line against England except the ref, this time it was the other way around. You could feel that the ref wanted the slightest of hints to award a penalty to the French.

    Just imagine what would have been the French state of mind walking in at 0-0 and having been pinned down by the Germans for the last 35 minutes.

    On one hand, I feel sad that we lost unnecessarily, but the 2014 satisfaction is still there, had it not been for that win, we would have all been so devastated that we came so close since 2006 and got nothing. In any case, things are looking good for 2018. Would love to have a report from Rick on his predictions about the squad for 2018.

    • July 11, 2016 at 12:02

      Thanks Kenan.

      I can’t disagree with what you have written. There was a “domino effect” feeling about the match, from the (unmerited) suspension for Mats Hummels, the injury to Mario Gómez, the appointment of Signor Rizzoli, and then, during the matc itself, the penalty incident and the injury to Jérôme Boateng.

      It was all about psychology, and the penalty killed us. It was like running a marathon only to have someone shoot you in the foot with the finishing line in sight.

      I agree that 2014 had straightened our heads a little – I never gave this much thought, but I do believe that part of the reason I little less annoyed by this result is that we are still world champions.

      A prediction for a 2018 squad? I might well do that!

  • July 8, 2016 at 15:29

    Great report Rick. Very disappointing night to say the least. Unfortunately bad decisions, not so great finishing and terrible injuries have cost the team. Boateng getting injured summed the night up. As for Rizzoli…Like you say, if it would have been at the opposite end and a French player he would never have given it. The ironic thing is, he was placed behind Schweinsteiger and Evra so surely couldn’t be 100% certain. it was the lift the French needed and was a massive blow. The continual injuries to top players is a worry. Let us now turn towards qualifying for the WM 2018 and retaining the World Cup.

    • July 11, 2016 at 11:57

      Thanks Mark. I am sure the ifs and buts will be debated, but for me the biggest issue was the lack of a clear target man. This new-fangled no-nine style had been found out, and we need to go back to finding a player in the tradition of Gerd Müller, Rudi Völler, Jürgen Klinsmann and Miro Klose.

      If we had two players like Klose we would have won this tournament for sure, and a couple like Mario Gómez would have given us more than a chance.

      This is the task for Germany in the next couple of years.


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