Germany and France took part in the first heavyweight match of the group of death. With European Champions Portugal still to come, both Germany and France will be eager to secure a winning start to help secure their passage to the knockout stages. This is Joachim Low’s fourth European Championship and seventh and final major tournament in charge of ‘Die Mannschaft’ and he will be desperate to prove the doubters wrong after a disappointing group-stage exit at the last World Cup in Russia by winning the European Championship which has always alluded him and his Germany side, despite coming close every time with two semi-final defeats and a run to the final back in 2008.
After vowing in 2019 not to select Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels or Jerome Boateng again and stating he wants ‘A new Germany’, the former two were selected for these championships and in the squad for the first time in two years, with Jogi Low perhaps less bothered about the future and will leave that to Hansi Flick who was in attendance tonight, when he takes over after this tournament, and Low selecting the old guard has demonstrated that his main concern is simple, win this championship.
As for France, many people’s favourites for this tournament led by Didier Deschamps has also made a controversial decision in his squad, recalling in-form Karim Benzema for the first time since November 2015 after his alleged involvement in blackmailing team mate Matthieu Valbuena in a sex tape scandal. As well as this after a bust-up between French forwards Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud after public criticism from the Chelsea striker, it will be interesting to see if that affects ‘Les Bleus’.
After successfully deploying a 4-2-3-1 system during their victory at the World Cup in Russia, Didier Deschamps has moved to a diamond formation, paving the way for Karim Benzema to return to the squad to partner Kylian Mbappe upfront with Antoine Griezmann behind.
As for the rest of the team, it is as expected with Paul Pogba and N’golo Kante in midfield with Adrien getting the nod over Corentin Tolisso to join them in midfield, and Tottenham and France captain Hugo Lloris in goal.
Germany lined up in a 3-4-2-1 system with the previously shunned Mats Hummels in the back 3 with Antonio Rudiger and Matthias Ginter and Thomas Muller and Champions league winner Kai Havertz in support of Serge Gnabry. Interestingly Timo Werner doesn’t make the team. Demonstrating the talent on show between the two teams, the 22 starting players had a mass 24 Champions League winners medals between them. A good omen for France is that they hadn’t lost to Germany in their last five games dating back to Germany’s 1-0 win over France in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, on their way to success in Brazil.
Germany started the stronger dictating the opening proceedings, however, the most notable moment in the first ten minutes was right wing-back Joshua Kimmich, marking Kylian Mbappe who was lining up on the left for France in a 4-3-3 was booked making his evening even more difficult right from the offset. Both teams appeared to be showing too much respect for each other with neither team taking the initiative.
The first clear cut chance fell France’s way after a fantastic corner from Antoinne Griezman, which was headed over by Paul Pogba. Minutes later was Mbappe’s first sight at goal cutting in onto his right foot after Kimmich backed off, perhaps wary of making another rash challenge, although his shot was routinely saved by Manuel Neuer.
After twenty minutes, France struck first, as Lucas Hernandez was quickest to meet an over the top pass by Pogba into the Germany box and his low cross was turned into the net by Mats Hummels, who couldn’t sort his footing out in time. Germany nearly got an instant response as Thomas Muller met Robin Gosens cross, only to head wide.
Germany responded well to going a goal down and started to dictate the game again. Germany’s best chance fell for Ilkay Gundogan after Serge Gnabry flicked on a deflected Gosens cross, falling for the city man only for him to drag wide. A cagey end to the half brought the half with ‘Les Bleus’ leading ‘Die Mannschaft’ by a goal to nil.
The first big chance in the second half fell Germany’s way after a Gosens cross found Gnabry at the back post and his mishit volley into the ground had Lloris stranded and nearly found the top corner. Germany were starting to up the ante approaching the hour mark as a succession of blocks by Kimpembe after a shot by Muller and then Havertz preserved the French lead.
A fantastic ball again from Pogba found Mbappe in space on the left and a fantastic curling effort seemed to put the game beyond doubt with twenty-five minutes to play. However, the offside flag spared the German’s blushes and kept the French’s lead at one.
Jogi Low made the first changes with a double substitution with former Manchester City man Leroy Sane replacing Serge Gnabry and Timo Werner replacing clubmate Kai Havertz. This led to a slight tactical tweak with Muller playing in behind the newly introduced Werner and Sane. As Germany searched for an equaliser, they left more space for France to counter, and if it weren’t for a last-ditch challenge from Hummels, Mbappe surely would have sealed the game for France. However soon after this Pogba found himself in acres of space, setting Mbappe free to tee up Karim Benzema to score into an empty net. However once again, a tight offside call went in Germany’s favour and the score remained 1-0.
France brought on Corentin Tolisso for Karim Benzema as they attempted to preserve their lead with time running out, however, six added minutes offered ‘Die Mannschaft’ hope. A mazy run by Leroy Sane put Kevin Volland in a good crossing position but an overhit cross by him and then a poor header by the Monaco Striker again robbed Germany of mounting an opening at the death. That was the last act of the game-sealing win for France.
Hugo Lloris- Not troubled in the first half, good command of the box from set-pieces. 7
Benjamin Pavard- Provided the width on the right with Benzema, coming more central, got himself in some good positions, great defensive header to stop Gosens heading home from an excellent Kimmich cross. Surprisingly played on after what appeared to be a head injury. 7
Raphael Varane- Excellent footwork to escape German attackers in a tight spot. Good interceptions to block Gundogan and Kroos’ attempts at breaking the stubborn French defence. 8
Presnel Kimpembe- Stepped out of shape on a few occasions attracted to ball instead of staying in shape, loose balls on a few occasions, good block from a shot by muller and then intercepting seconds later from Havertz. Shaky at times but all-round good performance and a clean sheet for the defender. 7
Lucas Hernandez- Quickest to react to Pogba’s ball over the top and a great teasing cross leading to the own goal proving to be the winner. Defended well when called upon and solid performance from the Bayern full-back. 7
N’Golo Kante- Alert first to everything, winning every second ball, great tackle to deny counter after loose ball from Kimpembe, and even willing on a few occasions to run forward to create openings, another great performance from the Chelsea midfielder, who has taken his game to a new level in 2021. 8
Adrien Rabiot- Poor touch on a few occasions and gave ball away cheaply at times, held run well and was unlucky to hit post early in second half but probably should have played in Griezmann. Solid performance from the Juventus midfielder. 6
Paul Pogba- Should have given France the lead with a free header from a corner early on, great ball to left for the goal and great pass to Mbappe for the offside goal., bit loose in possession at times but good performance from the United man who always seems to play better in a France shirt. 8
Antoine Griezmann- great delivery from set pieces, impressive defensive work rate especially late on with France trying to protect their lead, not his best night but selfless display from Griezmann. 7
Karim Benzema- selfless display typifying the striker occupying space to free up others, thought his return to the team ended in a goal but not to be, good performance overall. 6
Kylian Mbappe- Good defensive work rate after losing ball won back. great vision to play in rabiot. good runs in behind causing German defence grief but will be disappointed not to get on scoresheet. 7
Corentin Tolisso(sub)- N/A
Ousmane Dembele(sub)- N/A
Manuel Neuer- Not much he cold have done about the goal, good sweeping at times. A couple of routine saves. 6
Matthias Ginter- Slow to react for first goal. covered well for Kimmich on right side of defence when he was caught out, subbed as Germany tried to find way back into the game. 6
Mats Hummels- Own goal, defended well in 1v1 vs Mbappe. Great last ditch tackle on Mbappe to keep Germany in the game and handled the PSG man relatively well. 6
Antonio Rudiger- Beaten quite easily by Pogba in air from corner in early stages, nothing major to note, had nothing to do with the goal. 5
Joshua Kimmich- Booked early making game much harder for him, didn’t offer much going forward in first half, and was caught out of position a few times, much improved second half with some great crosses. 6
Toni Kroos- Good set piece delivery, looked to dictate from deep but didn’t get involved as much as normal. 6
Ilkay Gundogan- Often looking to drive forward from deep, should have equalised in first half, inch perfect tackle on Pogba in second half, solid game for German but wasn’t able to impact games in attacking areas as much as he did for Manchester City lasts season. 6
Robin Gosens- Much improved in second half, good crossing ability, subbed as German’s chased an equaliser. 6
Kai Havertz– Lost possession loosely on a couple of occasions and didn’t get involved as much as he could have, made some good runs in behind but not the best night for the Chelsea man. 5
Thomas Muller- Constant movement across the front line gave French defenders something to think about, didn’t have many clear cut chances apart from a header in first half, not the best night. 5
Serge Gnabry- A part from a nice flick to Gundogan, struggled to get involved as the central forward, not as affective as when he is out wide, poor night. 5
Timo Werner(sub)- N/A
Leroy Sane(sub)- Only notable thing was a poor Free Kick, wasn’t able to get involved as much as he would have liked. 3
Emre Can(sub)- N/A
Kevin Volland(sub)- Poor decision making in last few minutes in final third, that’s about as much as he contributed. 3
One notable feature of the Germans improvement in the second half was the attacking threat of wing backs Joshua Kimmich and Robin Gosens, as Germany’s only natural wide player in Serge Gnabry was shoehorned up front. This meant the wing backs were the main source of width and if Germany are to persist with the back three, they will need the wing backs to be an offensive threat.
As previously mentioned Gnabry was played through the middle, and was largely ineffective and it will be interesting to see if Jogi Low sticks with Gnabry through the middle, or goes with someone more comfortable through the middle, perhaps Thomas Muller, Timo Werner or Kevin Volland. There seemed to be a lack of movement and cohesion in the front 3 but that is hardly a surprise considering this formation was only brought back in the two warm up games for these championships. A lack of quality in the final third cost the Germans dearly and you get the feeling they could have played another hour and not scored. Jogi Low cut a frustrated figure but he will need to motivate himself and his German side in his last tournament as manager and the Portugal game on Sunday now seems a must win for ‘Die Mannschaft’.
The French weren’t at the absolute best, however managed the game well and were perhaps unlucky the margin of victory wasn’t bigger and were unlucky to have some tight offside calls go against them. I think the French will grow into this tournament and they will be delighted to have secured a win against a potential tournament rival despite not being at their swashbuckling best. Hugo Lloris and Paul Pogba, two players who whilst clearly have top talent, don’t always thrive in their club teams, Lloris looked far more assured in goal than he does for Tottenham, perhaps having two world class defenders in front of him as opposed to at spurs where he probably couldn’t have even guessed this season how many and what centre backs would take to the field in every game, the increased ability and consistency of the French defence, no doubt makes him more confident, as for Pogba, as we know from the World Cup, playing alongside N’golo Kante brings out the best in the Manchester United midfielder, as he frees him up to express himself and dictate the game, he is much more effective in the middle than on the left where he sometimes played in the bigger games as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer attempted to sure up his midfield, Pogba’s passing was excellent and France will hope to see more of the same from him as they bid to go one better than their second place finish at the last European Championship on home soil. France will hope to build on this victory with a victory over Hungary which won’t be an easy task as the Hungarian defence was very stubborn in the first opening eighty minutes of their game vs Portugal earlier today. As for Jogi Low and Germany, it is back to the drawing board for their huge game vs Portugal on Saturday.
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