From the moment Jogi Löw’s teamsheet was released, it was clear Germany had a plan for overcoming their recent struggles – a return to the German side of years past was on the cards. Philipp Lahm was back in defense, and Miroslav Klose returned as the traditional center forward. Germany were done playing around, and France was going to have to beat them the hard way. By solidifying their defense and beefing up the attack, Germany looked a much more difficult side to beat.
France was unlucky to give up the opening goal on a set-piece, but particularly poor defending by the young Raphaël Varane allowed Mats Hummels a free header. It was a wonderfully taken free kick by Toni Kroos and an even better header from Hummels. With the goal, Germany could sit further back, looking to hit on the counter. They looked to play the same sort of tactics that they did in 2010 when they had so much success against England and Argentina in the knockout round.
On this day, Germany dominated in the midfield with experience winning out over youth, with France having a hard time dictating the game as a result. Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira were noticeably effective at breaking up play in the middle of the park, forcing the French to move wider. The German defense was excellent for much of the match, with Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels looking an impressive pairing in the middle. Per Mertesacker will feel unlucky to have been left out, but Löw’s choice to add a little pace in the back helped keep Karim Benzema quiet. The few times France did manage to send in a useful ball, Hummels was always there to clean things up.
Manuel Neuer had yet another standout game between the posts, cementing his stance as the best all-around keeper in the world. Once again, his shot-stopping and distribution were top class. He looks a composed figure in net, and Germany have a huge advantage with him in the side. Neuer’s confidence seems to have a way of making the rest of his team feel at ease. One has to feel that if Germany wind up in a crucial penalty shootout, Neuer immediately gives them the edge.
France seemed to lack urgency in the second half, but that’s probably more of a testament to the German defending than it is a reflection of the French players. They were never able to find much of a rhythm, and even when Loïc Rémy was introduced to infuse pace in the side, nothing much went his way. France should be disappointed with their indifferent performance today, but they should feel confident about their current state going into the hosting duties of the 2016 European Championships. They look a team on the rise again, having gotten over the horrors of 2010.
From the Arsenal standpoint, it was frustrating to see so many players left out of these sides today. Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski deserve a run-out in the final two games for Germany. If they are going to be attacking on the counter, Podolski should be on the pitch late in games, as his finishing ability surely would have led to another goal or two today. And for France, Didier Deschamps will be left reconsidering his choice of central defenders. Laurent Koscielny was one of the very best defenders in the whole Premier League last season, and you have to wonder how he couldn’t make the starting 11 for his country. I did, however, agree with Deschamps selecting Antoine Griezmann ahead of Olivier Giroud today. As far as the one Gunner to get a start today, Mesut Özil had a slightly better game in my opinion. While he was not involved in much action, he looked dangerous on the counter attack and was unlucky not to have gotten an assist late on. He still remains a long way off from his best, but at least he made a number of decisive passes today.
I still have Germany as my favorites for the tournament, and today’s more disciplined performance will hopefully quiet some of their critics. With Manuel Neuer in net, die Mannschaft might just win this thing.