Unlucky Germany draw a blank in Nations League opener against France

After a tumultuous summer and over two months of soul searching, the time has come for Germany to take their first steps on the road to footballing recovery. The start of the inaugural UEFA Europa Nations League sees the Nationalmannschaft take on the team who took their world crown in Russia, France.

It is a damp evening in Munich, with the Allianz Arena (or tonight, the “Fußball Arena München”) hosting this prestigious meeting between two of the continent’s biggest and most successful footballing powers. In the last meeting in Köln at the end of 2017, Lars Stindl rescued die Nationalmannschaft with a dramatic injury time goal as the teams played out an exciting 2-2 draw.

Of the 29 previous matches played between the two countries, France have won thirteen and Germany ten. This is the thirteenth match on German soil, but the first in Munich. (For those who have seen other records that give Germany nine wins, I am including the penalty shoot-out in Seville in 1982. A win is a win, which is a win).

Germany have played 27 competitive matches at home since their last defeat, a 0-3 dead rubber loss in October 2007 against the Czech Republic. France, meanwhile, will be looking extend their ongoing unbeaten record in competitive internationals to 18. Taking these stats on board, there is a good bet that this evening’s meeting might end up all square.

The newly-refurbished Allianz Arena is completely sold out, and there is a mix of both apprehension and expectancy in the damp Bavarian air. It all makes for a terrific atmosphere, and is the perfect start to the international season. As the two teams step out onto the pitch, there is a fantastic display there to greet them. On the ground’s famous Südkurve, there is a massive heart.

Seven of the German players who were on the pitch against South Korea are in this evening’s starting lineup, and they are joined by four others who were also in the 23-man squad in Russia. There has been much talk of changes, but it is clear that this will take time. There are new faces in Jogi Löw’s squad, but all of them are unlikely to feature tonight. Manuel Neuer leads the German team out, one of six FC Bayern München players.

France, meanwhile, are starting with ten of the eleven players who started the World Cup final against Croatia. The only exception is injured captain Hugo Lloris, who is replaced in goal by Paris Saint-Germain custodian Alphonse Areola. It is something of a baptism of fire for Areola, who is making his senior international debut for Les Bleus. In Lloris’s absence, Real Madrid centre-back Raphaël Varane wears the captain’s armband.

Many of the faces in the German team may be familiar, but the formation is a little different from what we saw in Russia. Central defensive mainstays Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels are joined by Antonio Rüdiger on the left and Matthias Ginter on the right.

Having played at right-back for most of his burgeoning international career, Joshua Kimmich slots into his favoured defensive midfield role, sitting behind Toni Kroos and FC Bayern new boy Leon Goretzka. One might say that this is another Maharishi Jogi move, but one that is pretty sound.

Up front, a flexible three-pronged attack sees Thomas Müller on the right, Marco Reus on the left, and Timo Werner in the centre – nominally at least, given Werner’s pace down the left flank.

The two teams line up for the national anthems, both of which are dutifully observed. I know I will be winding up a few of my readers by mentioning it, but every one of the German players is in tune with the Nationalhymne. No wandering eyes to be seen.

Didier Deschamps’ side are wearing the updated version of their famous blue shirt, now adorned with two silver championship stars and FIFA world champions patch. In whitish gold rather than gold gold, the patch looks better than the version that was previously on the German Nationaltrikot.

1 min. France, their dark blue (in fact, more like dark night blue) shirts teamed with matching socks and shorts, get the match underway. Germany, curiously, are in all white. This can only be due to some silly UEFA colour-coding ruling, or it is a nod to the all-white ensemble that was worn in the victorious World Cup campaign in 2014. Probably the former.

3 mins. Rüdiger charges forward down the left after making a neat exchange with Marco Reus. VfB Stuttgart’s Benjamin Pavard slides into make the challenge, and Germany win the first corner of the match. Pavard took a bit of a clattering then, and makes his way off the pitch.

4 mins. Kroos takes the corner, which is cleared by the men in blue. Pavard is back on the pitch, looking a little worse for wear.

6 mins. Ginter works hard to win the ball back from N’Golo Kanté. We did not see much of that in Russia.

8 mins. Smart move from a throw in on the left from the Germans. The ball is swung across the pitch to Müller, who wins another corner.

9 mins. The corner is swung in. Lucas Hernandez runs into Ginter, falls to the ground in a heap, and France are awarded the free-kick. Cynically smart.

10 mins. Boateng brings Hernandez down, and France win a dangerous free-kick out on the left. Antoine Griezmann swings the ball in, and Mats Hummels clears.

12 mins. There is a chance for a quick German break here. Werner’s first contact is poor, and cannot keep the ball in touch.

13 mins. Some nice build up play from the home side, and Werner darts forward down the right. He manages to get a low cross into the box, but a blue shirt is there first to clear.

15 mins. Hernandez charges down the left, bundling Werner down. Play continues, and the cross is overhit. There is a high arm from Blaise Matuidi as he and Kimmich go for the ball, and the Frenchman is given a brief talking to by the Italian referee.

17 mins. France win a corner, which is easily cleared by a leaping Hummels.

18 mins. Boateng floats a lovely ball to Werner, who is out on the left, just outside the penalty area. He collects the ball cleanly and gets a shot on target, which is well gathered by Areola.

20 mins. This has been a good twenty minutes from Germany so far. A whole lot better than the dross that was served up in June. There is been far more shape, and crucially a lot more commitment and willingness to get back and defend.

21 mins. Ginter has space down the right, but his cross is too close to Areola. The ‘keeper plucks the ball out of the air.

23 mins. Reus almost steals the ball in the French box, but the French defence regather their composure.

24 mins. Another good shift down the left sees Rüdiger drill in a low cross towards Werner, but a defender is there first to put it behind for a corner. Which is cleared easily.

26 mins. A nice one-two between Ginter and Werner, and the Gladbach man is brought down by Kanté. The free-kick is swept in by Kroos, but the French defence are able to clear the danger. That was slightly underhit.

30 mins. Germany are keeping the ball nicely at the moment, biding their time. As they look to flick the switch, Werner sets off a little too early and is flagged offside.

31 mins. France look to create something out on the right, but Müller and Kroos are mucking in at the back. Again, some nice commitment is being shown here. Everybody is holding the line well.

32 mins. Kimmich shows some good control and advances towards the byline, but Varane intercepts his cross to clear.

33 mins. Müller gets a hand-off from Hernandez. There was contact, but nothing malicious. After a brief complaint to the referee, Müller gets on with it.

34 mins. Goretzka wins a corner out on the right. Kroos swings it in, and Rüdiger’s off-target header almost provides an assist for Hummels who is lurking at the far post.

36 mins. Out of nowhere, France have their first attempt on target. Olivier Giroud, who drew a blank in the World Cup, forces Neuer into a good diving save. The German skipper moves to his left, and pushes the ball away. With the danger averted, the men in white clear their lines.

39 mins. Ginter swings the ball into the box. Goretzka is closed down quickly, and Müller wins the corner. Kroos’s kick is well met by Giroud, who makes the clearance.

41 mins. There’s a bit of a wobble at the back as Hernandez almost fashions a shooting opportunity, but Neuer is there first to clear.

42 mins. France are ending the first half well. Pogba is brought down some twenty yards out, out to the left of the penalty area.

43 mins. French teenager Kilian Mbappé takes the free-kick. It is decently struck on target, but straight at Neuer. The German ‘keeper makes it look easy.

45 mins. Griezmann is robbed by Hummels, but the movement is a little sluggish. The ball is recycled, and Kroos finds Rüdiger whose cross-cum-shot is easily collected by Areola.

45+1 mins. France show some neat touches, and come close to opening the scoring. Ginter makes a terrific challenge to get to the ball before Matuidi, but France keep the attack going. Giroud back-flicks the ball across he face of the German goal. That was audacious. The whistle is blown for half time.

No goals, but that was a quality first half from both teams. Jogi Löw’s side have had more of the ball, but the visitors have come closest to breaking the deadlock. There has been plenty of commitment from Germany, and some nice touches of quality from Les Bleus. While the Germans have been solid at the back and well-drilled in midfield, there has been next to nothing up front. Timo Werner has had a couple of touches, but Marco Reus has been pretty anonymous so far.

46 mins. Germany start the second half.

49 mins. France up the ante. There is some good movement from the men in blue, and Griezmann’s shot is on target but gathered by Neuer.

51 mins. Rüdiger is penalised for a foul on Mbappé.

52 mins. Griezmann almost finds a hole in the German defence, but his sharp ball into the box is a little too strong for Giroud.

56 mins. Germany need to try something a little different. They are trying to pick open the French defence, but Paul Pobga and co are right at the top of their game.

57 mins. Werner shows a clean pair of heels to steam past Pavard, but there is no support close by. He has a shot, which is hit straight at Areola.

58 mins. Pavard finds space to set up the fast advancing Mpabbé, who lifts his shot over the target. That was a neat move from the French, but Pavard’s ball was a little too strong for the PSG man. Mbappé was pretty quiet in the first half, but we are seeing a lot more of his now.

60 mins. Another burst down the left by Werner, who cuts the ball back inside to Kroos. Just as the German number eight looks set to pull the trigger, Griezmann arrives to make the block.

61 mins. Müller has a shot on goal, but cannot get any real power behind it. Areola collects.

62 mins. Rüdiger’s pass inside finds Kimmich, who fancies a shot from long range. It floats harmlessly over the goal.

64 mins. There are some flicks and tricks from Les Bleus now. Pogba’s neat flick sets up a chance for Griezmann, whose shot is well saved by Neuer. At the other end, Goretzka floats in a cross that is met first time by Reus, who forces Areola into a stunning save. The French ‘keeper dives to his left to deny the Dortmund man. In all a very nice short passage of play there.

66 mins. The first change of the evening for Germany. The slightly disappointing Goretzka is off, and is replaced by İlkay Gündoğan, who gets a warm reception from the Munich crowd. According to some tweets there are a few whistles, but nothing that can be heard here on the television. French coach Deschamps also makes his first switch, with Ousmane Dembélé replacing Giroud.

69 mins. France break quickly, and Mbappé tries to get away from Boateng. The German defender does just about enough, and the teenager miscues his shot.

70 mins. Werner again makes a burst down the left, but Pavard is there to block the cross.

71 mins. The pace has definitely picked up here. Both sides are still solid at the back, but there is definitely more offensive threat.

72 mins. A lovely break from the home side, from an unexpected source. Mats Hummels charges down the right, and floats in a cross towards Müller. It looks as though the header is on, but Müller opts to chest the ball down instead before tying himself in a bit of a knot. Hummels gets a second bite of the cherry, and lashes a shot that is on target, but well parried by Areola.

73 mins. Gündoğan engineers a shooting opportunity from the edge of the box, which floats wide.

75 mins. Müller sends in a curling effort that is heading towards the top corner, but Areola flies to his left to push it behind for a corner. Was it a shot? Was it a cross? What is certain is that Areola did well to turn it behind. The corner is swung in by Kroos, and Ginter meets it with a firm header. The French ‘keeper is there again, this time flying to his left to make what is arguably the best save of the night. That looked like a certain goal.

76 mins. The next corner comes in, and Hummels gets there first. This one is a little easier for Areola, who makes a safe catch.

77 mins. There’s another messy scramble in the French box, and Gündoğan’s well-hit effort is blocked by a mass of blue shirts.

79 mins. It is all Germany at the moment. The rain is coming down in Munich, and there is a almost continuous white wave crashing against the blue French wall.

80 mins. Another move off the bench for France. Nabil Fekir is on for Griezmann.

82 mins. France win a corner, but it comes to nothing as Neuer collects the ball.

83 mins. The next change for Germany. Leroy Sané is on, replacing Reus. The Dortmund man has had one decent shot at goal, but has been largely disappointing. After all the talk about his being left of the World Cup squad, there is a cameo opportunity here for the young Manchester City winger.

84 mins. Kroos looks to find Sané down the left, and the French defence take no chances. The resulting corner is not great though, and the men in blue are able to clear their lines.

85 mins. France make their third and final change. Matuidi is off, and Corentin Tolisso will have at least five minutes of match time on his home turf.

88 mins. Rüdiger has bullied poor Pavard all evening, and makes another solid challenge by the touchline. There is a little more meat behind it though, which earns the Chelsea man the first booking of what has been a fair but well-contested match.

90 mins. Tolisso advances through the middle of the park, and Mbappé looks for space. Ginter is equal to it. The Gladbach man has been impressive all evening. There will be two minutes of additional time.

90+2 mins. Right at the death, there’s a shot from Pavard that takes a strange deflection off Boateng. It looks worrying at first, but Neuer is able to watch the ball float harmlessly over the goal. The final whistle blows.

After a fairly even first half with very few chances, Germany were the better side in a much better second 45 minutes. They upped the pace towards the end and created plenty of opportunities, but were not quite able to breach the well-drilled French line. Les Bleus clearly have goalkeeper Alphonse Areola to thank, with him making a string of excellent saves as the home side turned the screw in the final quarter of an hour. Not bad for a guy on his international debut.

Germany can consider themselves unlucky not to have taken all three points, but there are plenty of positives that can be taken from this game. In simple terms, the team was far better than they had been at any time during the World Cup.

The first step has been taken, and the coach will be looking at shuffling the lineup a little against Peru in four days time.

v France, Allianz Arena, München, 06.09.2018
France

0-0 (0-0)
– / –

Germany: Neuer (c) – Ginter, Boateng, Hummels, Rüdiger – Kimmich – Goretzka (66. Gündoğan), Kroos – Müller, Reus (83. Sané) – Werner

France: Areola – Pavard, Varane (c), Umtiti, Hernandez – Pogba, Kanté – Mbappé, Griezmann (80. Fekir), Matuidi (86. Tolisso) – Giroud (66. Dembelé)

Referee: Daniele Orsato (Italy)
Assistants: Lorenzo Manganelli (Italy), Fabiano Preti (Italy)
Goal Assistants: Marco Guida (Italy), Daniele Doveri (Italy)
Fourth Official: Matteo Passeri (Italy)
Referee Observer: William Young (Scotland)

Yellow Cards: Rüdiger / –
Red Cards: – / –

Ball Possession: 57% / 43%
Attempts on Target/Blocked: 10 / 4
Attempts off Target: 4 / 4
Corners: 10 / 2
Fouls Committed: 14 / 8

Attendance: 67,485

Unlucky Germany draw a blank in Nations League opener against France

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