Germany boss Löw says better side lost after clinical hosts snatch famous win
Published 08/07/2016 | 02:30
On the eve of this game, Joachim Löw said that France were about to face a side on different level to their previous Euro 2016 opponents.
France 2 Germany 0
He was right. And still, the hosts managed to find a way past the final hurdle en route to Sunday's decider in Paris.
Roared on by the home crowd in Marseille, they advanced after a semi-final where they were largely forced to employ the kind of tactics typically used by an away team in European battle.
Les Bleus soaked up German pressure and hoped they could make their rare chances pay.
They succeeded in doing so and made history in the process, ending a wait for a competitive win over their rivals that dates back to 1958.
In the run-up to this match, French TV had repeated the most famous disappointment along the way, the heartbreaking 1982 World Cup semi-final defeat that was remembered for the assault on Patrick Battiston by German keeper Harald Schumacher that was obvious to everyone apart from the referee.
Ironically, this encounter turned on an offence that nobody in the ground spotted until Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli pointed to the spot.
After a first half owned by Germany, the natives went in ahead completely against the run of play.
Rizzoli gave an early spot-kick against the hosts in the round of 16 tie with Ireland, but he awarded one in their favour just before the interval after taking guidance from his assistants and ruling that the raised arm of Bastian Schweinsteiger had illegally blocked an attempted Patrice Evra header.
The noisy crowd in the Stade Velodrome were slow to react but Antoine Griezmann kept his head as the giddiness grew and found the top corner.
It gave the natives an undeserved advantage just as Germany had started to resemble world champions again.
"There weren't too many things wrong," sighed Löw. "We dominated the game, particularly in midfield. We just didn't get the luck that we needed."
He had a point, although the absence of a natural striker is the major flaw in the German armoury. They could have done with a Griezmann to capitalise on the situations they created.
Aside from that, everything was in order with Germany well capable of dealing with an unchanged French set-up. There was a belief in some quarters that Deschamps would revert to the conservative approach from the start of the competition.
But he stuck with the formula that turned the match around against Ireland and decimated Iceland with Griezmann deployed centrally, playing off Olivier Giroud.
It meant that N'Golo Kanté was left on the bench, with Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi manning the engine room and Moussa Sissoko retained on the right flank.
They contributed to a lively start with a glorious combination between Griezmann and Matuidi resulting in the former drawing a fine stop from Manuel Neuer.
However, Germany responded by grabbing control of the game with the strong spine in their side exposing gaps. Löw had switched Thomas Müller to centre-forward in place of the injured Mario Gomez with Emre Can brought in next to Toni Kroos ahead of the sitting Schweinsteiger
The Liverpool player was all over the shop in the opening minutes but regrouped to send in a cross that the out of sorts Müller screwed wide before forcing a stop from Lloris with a scuffed attempt.
With Mesut Özil drifting inside to link with Kroos and the impressive Joshua Kimmich raiding from right back, it was looking good for Löw's charges.
France were reduced to waiting for counter attack opportunities. When Giroud won possession at halfway, they had that chance.
He lacked the speed to cash in, and stuttered forward like a hesitant learner driver on a motorway, with Benedikt Höwedes accelerating back with the sirens racing to expertly block his path.
Still, the memory was quickly erased by the penalty and France emerged full of energy, with a Giroud half-chance swatted to safety.
They were soon pegged back again, though, as Germany continued to own possession. Diagonal balls in an attempt to expose the French full-backs Evra and Bacary Sagna were a part of Löw's strategy.
But the injury curse that deprived him of Gomez and Sami Khedira struck again on the hour mark when Jerome Boateng went down after the routine execution of a crossfield pass. Shkodran Mustafi was introduced. With Mats Hummel banned, the German rearguard was at Plan C.
Boateng was followed to the sidelines by Can, with Löw sending for Mario Götze as the game entered its final quarter. Germany pressed and Samuel Umtiti, retained ahead of Adil Rami in central defence, manned the decks admirably.
Deschamps made a change of his own that appeared to be about shoring things up, with the relatively subdued Dimitri Payet replaced by Kanté.
They responded by grabbing the insurance goal, capitalising on German indecision in their own half. Pogba burst forward to open a window to his talent by tormenting the hapless Mustafi with trickery and sending in a cross that Neuer flapped into the path of the waiting Griezmann, who stabbed home his sixth goal of the competition.
Eighteen minutes remained and Germany continued to probe, firing a series of crosses into the box that would have set up a thrilling finale.
Kimmich struck the woodwork with a left foot thunderbolt and was later denied by injury time heroics from Lloris as the tricolour flags were waved in celebration.
"In 2010 and 2012 we went out to sides that were better than us," said Löw, who expects France to defeat Portugal. "Today, this wasn't the case."
Deschamps shied away from predictions as he wore the broad smile of victory. "The most important game is still to come," he stressed.
If Sunday goes to form, then history might argue otherwise.