Tournament hosts France go head to head with Germany this Thursday evening in the second Euro 2016 semi-final.
Les Bleus are riding an ever increasing wave of national optimism and stand on the precipice of realizing what will be a fairy-tale achievement. In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, there were doubts as to whether this tournament would even progress. Now France have fostered international sentiment and could deliver the type of healing that sport - in its idiosyncratically democratic character - has the power to do.
Germany - in typically indomitable fashion - once again find themselves in the semi-final of a major tournament. They managed to exorcise their Italian hoodoo and will be aiming to add the European trophy that the iconic World Cup. They do however have selection concerns and this should make for a thrilling encounter.
France v Germany | Thursday 7 July | Stade Velodrome | 21:00
To Win (90 Mins)
France 18/10 | Draw 19/10 | Germany 17/10
France 8/10 | Germany 9/10
Didier Deschamps must have been delighted that Iceland decided to abandon all that had propelled them into the quarter-finals when the two sides met, effectively inviting France’s galaxy of stars to express themselves. Umtiti did well coming into the side but should be replaced by the returning Rami.
France switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation and surprisingly played Sissokho on the right-hand side ahead of Kingsley Coleman. It worked a treat and I don’t expect Deschamps to veer from this formation, which will mirror Germany’s own line-up. Sissoko seems to give them athleticism in both attacking and defensive capacity. So I expect Kante to remain on the bench despite being available for selection again.
Koscielny and Rami will be relieved that the physical presence of Mario Gomez will be absent. Matuidi and Pogba will feel confident that they can dominate Kroos and the potential presence of Schweinsteiger. And in Giroud, they have a player that can disrupt Germany - especially a German side missing the suspended Mata Hummels.
Dimitri Payet possesses that effervescent quality that every side requires. His battle with Kimmich could be another area where France could dominate. And let’s not forget the increasingly totemic presence of Antoine Griezmann. Germany’s selection issues present France with a real opportunity to avenge their World Cup defeat from 2014.
Germany survived a nerve-jangling penalty shoot-out against Italy and now need to recover from the fallout of that historic encounter. I believe that Sami Khedira is going to be a big miss. He is, traditionally speaking, Germany’s most adept holding midfielder. Kroos has the ability to control specific games with his range of passing, but it is Kheidera who tends to occupy that sitting role most effectively.
Schweinsteiger is sweating on his fitness, but I expect Low to somehow get the captain into the side. That being said, I truly fee that the United player is a shadow of his former self. He has neither the vision nor vigour to occupy that role and could be overrun by the likes of Pogba.
The absence of Hummels should be fairly easy to navigate. Howedes will partner Boateng in the middle well Kimmich retreats into a more conventional right-back position. One thing that this tournament has shown is that young Kimmich is not quite Phillipe Lahm in terms of versatility as of yet.
Gomez’s unavailability will likely see Mario Gotze drafted into the side in some capacity. Muller will play in the ostensible number nine role while Draxler, Ozil and Gotze interchange around him. This could actually add some dynamism to the side and could put pressure on veteran full-backs Sagna and Evra. But France are looking a more balanced side that are peaking at the same time.
Verdict: France To Qualify 8/10
I think that Germany’s Low will battle to navigate some of the injury and suspension setbacks that face him. They are a well drilled and will make life difficult for France. But the overwhelming patriotic fervour driving France and their recently found form should see them past Germany over two hours.