France ruthlessly exploited the chinks in a superior German side’s tactical armour to progress to the final of Euro 2016.
After an uncomfortably frenetic opening 10 minutes, in which Antoine Griezmann escaped Bastian Schweinsteiger to almost open the scoring, Germany eventually harnessed playmaker-par-excellence Toni Kroos to slow the tempo in their favour.
Kroos’ influence was integral to Joachim Low’s plan to pierce France’s compact, 10-strong, defensive unit. Fielded to the left of a central midfield three, the Real Madrid conduit-in-chief combined with Julian Draxler and the floating Mesut Ozil to overload Paul Pogba’s zone.
Left back Jonas Hector profited from this midfield melee on the overlap, as did out-ball Joshua Kimmich on the opposite flank. The latter, aided and abetted by clever in-to-out runs from Emre Can, comfortably outperformed the former, with the dozing Draxler’s failure to convert the right back’s 33rd minute cross representing Germany’s best chance of the first half.
Happily for France, Ozil’s central drifts from his starting right wing position created opportunities for the notoriously attack-minded Patrice Evra to advance when possible. The reigning world champions failed to heed a warning shot in the 41st minute, when Griezmann hit the side-netting after Evra had left Ozil in the dust.
Five minutes later, Low’s side paid indirectly for Ozil’s laxity. Schweinsteiger’s disastrous decision to lead with his hand and concede a penalty-kick was made in the defence of a corner that Hector conceded in response to a back-post cross from an untracked Evra.
Now behind and forced to open up further, Germany offered France the opportunity to counter-attack with far greater regularity. The 47th minute saw Didier Deschamps’ side twice cut through their opponents with ease, with both Olivier Giroud and Griezmann forcing crucial blocks from promising goalscoring positions.
Griezmann’s chance was a snapshot of Germany’s two most obvious defensive weaknesses on the night, with Evra again advancing untracked to facilitate the Atletico forward in outwitting Schweinsteiger once more.
Deschamps responded to Mario Gotze’s introduction with the return of N’Golo Kanté to the holding role in a 4-1-4-1. Mere seconds later, Low’s first substitution – enforced due to an injury sustained by Boateng – proved crucial in doubling the French lead.
Boateng’s long passing was another crucial element to Low’s attacking strategy in the first hour, with long diagonals to Hector representing a common route to German possession in the final third. Neither his replacement Shkodran Mustafi, nor his partner Benedikt Howedes, are nearly as comfortable on the ball, and it was the latter’s hospital pass to Kimmich, across his own goal, that led to Griezmann’s second goal.
Another attacking change from Low, with Leroy Sané introduced on the right wing role in place of Schweinsteiger, saw the pressure on France ratchet up significantly. Hugo Lloris made a fantastic save from a Kimmich header, after the right back had earlier struck a post on the break. The imperious Kroos also created good chances for Sané and Mustafi with inswinging deliveries from his centre-left sphere of influence.
France’s good fortune held however, to set up an eminently winnable final clash with Fernando Santos’ Portugal. Deschamps was lucky to survive the first half German midfield onslaught, with the decision to omit Kanté looking very foolish in light of the overloading of Pogba and the failure of Blaise Matuidi to reliably track the runs of Can.
The French manager’s players bailed him out by successfully thrusting at the most obvious chinks in Low’s chosen suit of armour. To opt for an ageing Schweinsteiger, bereft of significant playing time in this calendar year, in the holding midfield role was a bizarre decision, and his failure to do the job adequately was as predictable as his colleague Ozil’s abrogation of defensive responsibility.
While the Germans may have been superior to their hosts in the aggregate, those failings, paired with the second half loss of Boateng, ultimately ended their pursuit of European Championship glory.
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