Most football fans are aware of the odd discrepancy that despite their dominance over the sport throughout the decades, Germany have never won a competitive fixture against Italy. Technically, they still haven’t, with Saturday’s win on penalties in the quarterfinals officially being counted as a draw. It’s a little less well known however, that the last time France won a meaningful contest against Germany was in the 1958 World Cup.
Thus Didier Deschamps’ team will be looking to buck the trend of nearly 60 years of history when the two continental powers clash in the semifinals of Euro 2016 on Thursday. Germany, as world champions, and France, as tournament hosts, were always favorites to reach the final going into this tournament one month ago. But only one will progress to meet the winner of Portugal vs. Wales in the final on Sunday.
Despite being hosts and favorites to reach the final, France are still smarting from the 1-0 defeat that saw them eliminated by Germany from the quarterfinals of the World Cup two years ago. But the France team that lost that night at the Maracana is not the same team that will take to the field at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille on Thursday.
The 2014 model France was in some ways, still in the process of recovering from the disastrous mutiny of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The team’s leading lights in this current tournament, Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet, were yet to emerge into the national spotlight.
France will go into Thursday’s clash unbeaten in their last nine outings. After a slow start to these Euros, there is the sense that this French team is finally clicking into gear. They made relatively easy work of Iceland in their last match, dispatching of the tournament’s Cinderella story with a commanding 5-2 win.
As the tournament has progressed Les Bleus have become less dependent on late-game heroics to win matches and the three-pronged attack of Payet, Griezmann and Olivier Giroud looks fit and firing. But apart from being held to a scoreless draw by a talented Swiss team, France have yet to face a real test in these Euros.
That test is surely looming in the form of Thursday’s run-in with the world champions.
The meeting with France will be Germany’s sixth consecutive semifinal appearance at a major tournament in the last decade. However, while France could be seen to have strengthened since the World Cup two years ago, there’s also a sense that this isn’t quite the same German team.
Unlike in Brazil, Jogi Loew’s side hasn’t really stormed its way through these Euros. They’re undefeated, as you’d expect. But they were held to a scoreless draw by Poland and needed penalties to squeak past Italy.
They’ve also got a spate of injuries with Mario Gomez and Sami Khedira out and Bastian Schweinsteiger a major doubt.
What Germany does have though is the best defense at these Euros. In five matches, German keeper Manuel Neuer has yet to give up a single goal from open play. Although, impressive as they have been, the well-marshaled German backline has yet to come up against an attack as formidable as France’s.
Giroud in particular has a knack for finding the back of the net against Neuer. And France will need its attack to be firing on all cylinders to compensate for a porous defense that’s given up four goals in this tournament. With Gomez sidelined, Loew is likely to deploy Thomas Muller as a ‘false 9,’ meaning center-back Laurent Koscielny will be saddled with the difficult task of trying to corral him.
Despite being hosts, favorites, and possessing talent in every position on the pitch, it will be all hands on deck for Deschamps’ team if they really are to pull off their first tournament victory against Germany in 58 years and progress to Sunday’s final.