France and Germany will write another chapter in their long rivalry when the two favorites to win Euro 2016 clash in a heavyweight semifinal in Marseille on Thursday. Whether it is the host nation or the current world champion that progress, there is no doubt that the winner of the match will be a strong favorite going up against Portugal in Sunday’s final.
The odds makers suggest that the semifinal is too close to call, but if history is any guide then it is Germany that has the advantage. Remarkably, the two counties with five titles between them have never before clashed in a European Championship. But they have squared off four times in World Cups. And since France claimed victory in the third-place game at the 1958 World Cup, it has been all Germany.
Unquestionably the sides’ most famous encounter came in the semifinals of the 1982 World Cup. It was one of the competition’s great games, but is primarily remembered for the most infamous foul in World Cup history. Germany goalkeeper Harald Schumacher charged from his goal and jumped straight into France forward Patrick Battiston long after the ball had gone, knocking him unconscious and later into a coma, dislodging teeth, breaking ribs and cracking vertebra. Yet no foul was even given and Schumacher showed little concern or remorse.
Germany would go onto win on penalties that day and it came out on top, too, at the same stage of the 1986 World Cup. It was a similar story two years ago in Brazil, this time in the quarterfinals, when a header from Mats Hummels proved decisive in a contest where France ultimately went down with little resistance.
Yet Germany showed itself in the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 that history could be overcome. Having never before got the better of Italy in a major tournament, Germany survived a wild penalty shootout to progress and keep its hopes alive of following in the footsteps of France and becoming just the third country to follow up a World Cup win with the European title.
If it is to go any further, though, it will have to cope without its match winner against France in 2014. Hummels picked up a second yellow card of the tournament against Italy, ruling him out through suspension. He won’t be the only player who lined up against France in Brazil to be unavailable on Thursday, with Sami Khedira definitely out injured. In addition, the squad’s only natural striker, Mario Gómez, has been ruled out for the remainder of the tournament. But there is some good news with captain Bastian Schweinsteiger confirmed fit to start on Thursday.
Coach Joachim Löw, who sprung a tactical surprise by matching the 3-5-2 of Italy in the quarterfinals, now has much to ponder ahead of the encounter at the Stade Vélodrome. The same is true of his counterpart Didier Deschamps.
Having stumbled through the early rounds, France produced by far its most convincing performance of Euro 2016 in breezing past tournament Cinderella story Iceland in the quarterfinals. But with midfielder N’Golo Kante now back from suspension, as well as defender Adil Rami, he faces a dilemma of whether to change a winning lineup.
He will know, too, that Germany is a very different caliber of opponent to Iceland. And for Deschamps and France it is now time to show that it can deliver against a major team at a major tournament.
Since surprisingly reaching the final of the 2006 World Cup, France has failed, often spectacularly, to do itself justice on the international stage. After finishing bottom of its group at Euro 2008, there was the infamous players strike and early exit in South Africa two years later. And in the last two tournaments, France has bowed out against its first major opponent having put up scant resistance.
A repeat on Thursday to leave France watching on as the host not invited to the final party may prove the most painful of the lot.
Kickoff Time: 3 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN