Game of the Day: France vs. Germany, Marseille, 20.00
After a tournament scattered with surprises, Thursday night sees what will be a widely predicted line up for the semi-final in the bottom half of the draw; hosts and favourites France against World Champions Germany.
Marseilles’ Stade de Velodrome hosts what is set to be an enthralling battle and neutrals will be hoping it can live up to the memorable clashes of the ‘80s (perhaps with less goalkeeper-based GBH). Olivier Giroud has gone as far saying this team are “not-confident” because they are playing Germany, which is refreshing in that it reassures English fans that we are not the only ones who “never write off the Germans”.
Germany have had to see off a superb team unit (and bogey team) in Italy. It remains to be seen if extra time and a ludicrous set of penalties will have taken too much out of the team. The French in contrast are yet to be seriously challenged and must now face a ruthless winning machine.
Joachim Low will be without Mario Gomez, Mats Hummels and Sami Khedeira, but has arguably the strongest all round squad left in the competition. Low may not have quite as many attacking options left at his disposal as Didier Deschamps, but has been shrewd in rotating his side without puncturing momentum by making wholesale changes.
It would be a real surprise if Low chose to go with three at the back; this felt like a specific plan for a specific foe and with Hummels missing, he would be without one of his ball-playing centre halves.
Emre Can is likely to step in to replace Khedeira (with Bastian Schweinsteiger also injured) but the Germans are not just high-quality technicians, they are also extremely tactically adept, perhaps in part due to the tutelage of Pep at Bayern for many of the side.
So what of the hosts? Despite the pain caused to the new neutrals favourites, it was good to see Griezmann, Payet and Pogba cut loose against Iceland. ‘Good in attack, shaky in defence’ seems to be the consensus and Hugo Loris will need to marshall his backline expertly if he is not to have an extremely busy night. Iceland’s two goals may have been little more than consolations but were extremely simple in execution, so the ‘hilariously’ named Umtiti, or the returning Rami will have their work cut out against the probing of Draxler and Ozil.
If Leicester’s N’Golo Kante can shackle the influence of Toni Kroos’ and provide a platform for the forward line, then perhaps the free-scoring French could break their own tournament hoodoo.
Andrew Grillo, The Sweeper Football Blog