Despite missing stars, Germany still expected to dominate France
Ahead of what will certainly be a tight semifinal clash between two European heavyweights, German team manager Oliver Bierhoff opted to take a coy approach in describing his team’s coming French opponents.
“I see France as slight favourites,” explained Joachim Löw’s colleague at a press conference in Evian on Tuesday. Whether or not Bierhoff was being sincere is besides the point. Germany will remain modest until they step on to the pitch.
Indeed, the quiet confidence of “Die Mannschaft” has come to characterise the world champions so far at these European Championships. At no point have Germany ever looked like the comfortable favourites for the competition but they’ve also never looked troubled with the tasks put before them.
Where Italy, Spain and perhaps most comically, England, have met their match after flattering to deceive, Germany have continued ticking along with relative ease.
The reason for this is largely down to the character of Löw’s squad and the style of football and tactics which his team can now play with the utmost efficiency.
The win over Italy in the previous round would have made for a fitting final to the competition but it was instead an example of how far Germany have come under Löw.
Rather than buckle under the old fear of facing the Italians, this squad not only dominated large parts of the game but also kept its cool to win a truly tense penalty shootout.
While fans and critics may have gawked at the length of the showdown what stood out was the manner in which Bastian Schweinsteiger picked the Italian end — not the German — for the penalties only to then see his colleagues finish the job.
Couple this with some handy tactics from the coach and you have a solid combination. This summer we’ve seen Germany play a similar style to what we saw in Brazil two years ago, with minor altercations.
Indeed, it has been the former that has quickly taken up the role of passer-in-chief in this German side and now quite confidently dictates the pace and direction in which his team are moving.
Although the front line hasn’t worked as well as Löw would have hoped, he has been able to rely upon Kroos and Sami Khedira to control the middle of the park in each game.
Khedira’s injury against Italy meant Schweinsteiger had to come on and perform that role with limited success, which may pose a minor problem for the coach ahead of the clash with France.
Schweinsteiger will almost certainly start and if all goes according to plan bow out 60 minutes in to the game for the likes of Emre Can or Julian Weigl. Yet as long as Löw has someone putting in the legwork alongside Kroos the system should hold and allow Germany to push on with their intention of dominating possession and therefore the game.
The suspension of Mats Hummels will also undoubtedly play a role in how well Germany can keep the ball, but as we’ve seen throughout the competition Benedikt Höwedes can fill in when needed. Albeit in a relatively limited role as far as ball-playing defenders go.
There are other minor reasons to be optimistic heading in to this clash with France.
Perhaps the most obvious one is that Didier Deschamps’ side simply haven’t came up against a team like Germany in the competition so far. While Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland offered stern tests to the hosts, neither are anywhere near the quality they’ll be facing on Thursday night.
While this German team have already proved their worth from the World Cup two years ago and against genuine contenders for the competition in Poland and Italy, France simply haven’t had the opportunity to play at the level that will be expected of them against Löw’s side and we’re still not sure if they actually can.
Although there are undoubtedly some fantastically talented players in the French team — Antoine Griezmann, Dimitri Payet and Paul Labile Pogba to name but a few — their style of play does offer Löw further room for cautious optimism.
Against both the Swiss and Irish Deschamps’ side routinely gave the ball away. In fact, in both games the hosts intercepted the ball in the middle of the park less than their opponents, with the Swiss actually dominating possession in their 0–0 draw in the group stages.
Fans of this French side may argue that their entire game plan is built on counter attacking with pace, yet it’s clear to see from the setup of both sides that Thursday’s match should most likely see Germany dominate heavily as we saw in the previous game against Italy.
Similarly, the French defence doesn’t offer anywhere near the same threat or pedigree having conceded four goals in five games so far — three of them coming against Romania and Iceland. Compare that to Germany’s own defensive line, which continues to boast the best record in the competition and there is little to no comparison to be made.
Although Thomas Müller has yet to score this summer he really ought to be looking at that back-line with delight.
Ultimately, Germany go in to Thursday’s game expecting to dominate possession against a team that could hurt them on the break but should eventually concede to Müller or one of his more prolific colleague.
Prediction: Germany 2–0 France