What a game. What a fantastic and unreal game.
The live experience of football is a very different animal to watching it on the TV. I was in Nice for England/Iceland and it was absolutely clear that England were dreadful but it was only after reading and listening to the various recriminations that it was clear just how much of a steaming pile of faeces England actually were.
There can be absolutely no denying in how great a game France vs Germany was. In the Stade Vélodrom it felt like you were watching a spectacle, something more than a semi-final as the stature of both teams resonated with their respective fans. This was their final.
High up in the heavens at the Stade Vélodrome I sat, I watched and I absorbed one of the best footballing experiences I’ve ever had. I have always wanted France to go all the way this summer from a purely selfish reason that I am in France to the bitter end and we all know that when the hosts go, a little bit of the tournament goes with them.
From the almost chilling rendition of La Marseillaise before the game to Antoine Greizmann’s soon to be famous double, this felt like a moment in French sporting history. This was an overcoming of the odds, of defeating a historical foe, of unity.
I appreciate that this may appear all a bit hyperbole and exaggerated but in the stadium as a comparative neutral, this is what it felt like. It was just simply unreal.
German and French fans at O’Malley’s Port side before the game
Before we made our way to the stadium, we headed down to the Old Port, scenes of the clash all those games ago between Russian and England fans. Oh how different an atmosphere can be when you remove England fans and a borderline Russian militia from a football match. It simply was bouncing.
With the sun out and cold pints in hand, the port was heaving with a mix of French, German, Dutch, English and even some Swedish and Northern Irish shirts bopping around. It was a true football tournament experience. Fans and tourists together in 28c sunshine. It’s a far cry from the British summer. It’s a far cry from what I had heard about Marseille.
A few pints down and a trip on an overcrowded underground beckoned, the epitome of an English footballing experience for any game in London, but when we got to the Vélodrome it was clear this wasn’t a trip to Palace or the Emirates. The fervour of excitement was palpable. The tricolore was seen everywhere. Germans sang, trying to penetrate the wall of noise. Earlier in the Port, a German fan said when we asked of his feelings on the semi-final, “it’s Germany in a semi-final” and smiled. The Germans believed this to be their year.
Spot the cock
In the ground, the French sang, the Germans chanted. Deschamps went unchanged from Iceland; injury had forced Jogi Low’s hand with Mats Hummels and Mario Gomez missing. The stage was set.
I will spare you all a blow by blow account but I had written previously in about the expectation on Dimitri Payet and Antione Griezmann shoulders going into these knockouts and as their names rang around the stadium, it’s hard to imagine how they must of felt. Especially Payet returning to his old stomping ground for the second time this tournament.
On the night, Griezmann undoubtedly starred. He is a kid who knows how to play football and with 5 goals in the knockouts alone, the player of the tournament gong is only going one way.
Other players who really stepped up in Marseille though were Paul Pogba who dominated, chewed and spat out almost any German who came within spitting distance of the Juventus midfielder. Moussa Sissoko, now a Championship footballer with Newcastle, seems to be the missing piece of the puzzle tactically for Deschamps and was everywhere during the game. Then you have to mention Samuel Umtiti. He may have a vaguely amusing name but in a week where he has signed for Barcelona, made his international debut and now beaten Germany, he looks the real deal and at around £20m, just a bit of a bargain at 22 years old.
Germany meanwhile just didn’t turn up to the races. Without Mario Gomez it seemed their plan A and their plan B had gone. Possession dominant, Germany created few clear cut chances within 12 yards of Lloris and whilst some claim the penalty was harsh, I have no qualms with the decision.
Griezmann opening the scoring from the spot
Now it’s back to Nice. The place where this trip started and a chance to watch France once more in the best fan park I’ve been to. It’s where I saw them beat Republic of Ireland and I hope to god it’s where I see them beat Portugal. I know objectivity is key when writing about football but it will be a truly crappy end to the tournament to see Cristiano Ronaldo wink down the camera because he finally scores a free kick.
ALLEZ LES BLEUS! And to one of the best games of international football I think I will ever see.
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog
See below for some extra pictures from in and around the Stade Vélodrome
Approaching the stadium
From the concourse
Out seats high up in the heavens
The Final Whistle and France lead their very own ‘thunder clap’.
It’s still no Iceland however.