France get final wish after Antoine Griezmann’s double sinks Germany
Away team scorers Antoine Griezmann 45 +1:52 Pen Antoine Griezmann 72
The French need never shudder again at the memory of the traumas suffered to German rivals in Seville and Guadalajara three decades ago, or even the deflation endured in the steamy heat of the Maracana at the last World Cup.
All those demons were exorcised in the glorious frenzy of Marseille. It had been 58 years since the Germans were last overcome in a competitive fixture and in dismissing the reigning world champions from the tournament, Les Bleus stand on the edge of greatness of their own.
Didier Deschamps’ side will venture out at the Stade de France on Sunday as favourites to reclaim this trophy for the first time since the turn of the millennium, this time at Portugal’s expense.
This victory was a validation of their qualities, first in resisting stubbornly as Germany held sway, then by the manner in which they capitalised so brutally. In Antoine Griezmann they boast the Golden Boot winner elect, a goalscorer whose every touch seems to spread havoc. Germany could bemoan a refereeing decision, but they ended diminished. The belief is all French.
Marseille had crackled in thrilled anticipation of this fixture all week, the population of one of the country’s more football-obsessed cities whipping itself into a frenzy at the prospect of revenge. Talk of that wretched competitive record against Die Mannschaft had surfaced time and again in the buildup but while the French players had done all they could to appear calm and relaxed, the atmosphere generated by those waving tricolores betrayed a nation desperate to shatter an inferiority complex. These finals have rarely been blessed with a din this vociferous and for a while, it served to inspire.
Griezmann, benefiting from Blaise Matuidi’s surge down the left and delicate lay-off, cut inside from the flank, left Benedikt Höwedes embarrassed on the turf and forced Manuel Neuer into a smart low save. It was Matuidi’s feverish energy which drove the home side on in those early exchanges, a player who had been booed mercilessly and pelted with bottles when visiting this arena with Paris Saint-Germain five months ago now cheered into the night sky. Neuer would be beaten before the interval, albeit controversially, with Höwedes earlier having also done well to recover and snuff out Olivier Giroud’s trundling run.
Yet the reality that France went into half-time ahead still felt mystifying. From the moment the local whirlwind had blown itself out to stoppage time at the end of the half, this had been a masterclass. Where France were all muscular aggression, snapping into challenges or clawing their way upfield, the world champions cut through with the pace and accuracy of their passing.
Didier Deschamps’ bold decision not to include N’Golo Kanté in his starting lineup was exposed for the risk it was with each incisive burst, whether mustered by Emre Can and Mesut Özil, or Toni Kroos and Julian Draxler. Too often they had met only feeble resistance, with Hugo Lloris extended to deny Can and Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Samuel Umtiti hacking clear as Thomas Müller sensed a tap-in.
There was such assurance to Germany’s approach that it merely felt like a matter of time before they forged the advantage they merited. Then, in the last exchange of the period, Schweinsteiger leapt into an aerial challenge with Patrice Evra, his arms raised awkwardly, and the ball flicked from the Frenchman’s head on to the German’s right hand from point-blank range. Nicola Rizzoli, much to the bemusement of the crowd and fury of the World Cup holders, awarded the penalty which Griezmann dispatched.
The Vélodrome erupted though, in truth, Deschamps must have been grateful to return to the dressing-room with his side still in the contest, let alone the lead.
It was an advantage the ponderous Giroud probably should have extended only to be thwarted by Jérôme Boateng’s smothering challenge, with the siege duly resuming thereafter, albeit propelled as much by desperation as any sense of injustice. Joachim Löw’s side had not previously trailed in this tournament but they continued to probe with menace, monopolising the ball and forever attempting to drag Les Bleus out of their defensive shape as the strains of La Marseillaise echoed defiantly around the arena.
The hosts’ refusal to yield was admirable. Umtiti, on only his second appearance at this level, looked worth the £24.6m Barcelona have just paid to prise him from Lyon, with Laurent Koscielny reassuring at his side and Evra, a veteran enjoying a renaissance in the national team, bellowing instructions to anyone who would listen.
It was the Germans who appeared frazzled, their discipline wavering, and they would crack once more. Perhaps the disruption of Boateng’s departure through injury played a part but with the back-line still adjusting, Joshua Kimmich surrendered the ball to Paul Pogba inside the penalty area.
The Juventus midfielder teased space from the substitute Shkodran Mustafi and eventually clipped over a cross which Neuer, under pressure from Giroud, could only punch weakly towards the penalty spot. There was Griezmann to scuff a sixth goal of the tournament into the empty net. Nothing the Germans struck thereafter was ever likely to find reward, even as Kimmich struck the woodwork and chances flew marginally off target. This was France’s night. It could well be their tournament.