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16 June, 2021 08:28:15 AM
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France win heavyweight clash with Germany

The Guardian, Munich
France win heavyweight clash with Germany
Kylian Mbappé gave Mats Hummels a torrid time throughout the game. Photo: EPA

All that talent, all that expectation, and in the end it came down to a first-half own goal scored by Mats Hummels. An awkward deflection off his shin and into the top corner beyond Manuel Neuer was the only time either goalkeeper was beaten.

But do not think that the story of this game between the last two World Cup winners, the opening night that could have been the climax of the entire competition, can be told so easily. Do not believe, either, that France will be removed easily.

After a difficult first half in which they nonetheless had chances, Germany went for France here and might even have succeeded, particularly when Serge Gnabry’s shot bounced over, but there was no way through even in the tense, noisy final minutes.In fact, the more Germany came at them, the more France broke, Kylian Mbappé an unstoppable force.

Twice France might have ended this only to have goals from Mbappé and Karim Benzema ruled out, ultimately celebrating victory by a single goal.

If that said something about German limitations – “We were not clinical enough,” Joachim Löw said – there is certainly something about Didier Deschamps’s side.

They have a strength, assuredness and variety no one else has, a resilience to go with the technical quality that meant they were the ones still standing at the end of an enthralling evening in Munich, the exceptional Paul Pogba thumping at his chest.

This was better than the scoreline suggests, as a match and a meeting; not a classic, maybe, and France in particular will probably get better, but it was a proper occasion that sounded like one too.

Nor, even though this was Munich, did it feel like a home game: this was two sets of fans, chanting at each other across the turf, every tackle a shout, every run a roar.t began with the Marseillaise belted out, a call to arms that was heeded. The first chance was a header from Hummels, the first clash Pogba on Toni Kroos, the first card handed to Joshua Kimmich, the first slide tackle from Matthias Ginter, loudly cheered.

All that and they had been playing only seven minutes. Another five and there was a first glimpse of Karim Benzema plucking the ball from the sky, a soft subtle touch that may have elevated the world champions to an even higher level.

Just after that, France opened Germany up for the first time, Benjamin Pavard racing up the right. Then Mbappé brought the first save from Neuer, still inside quarter of an hour.

But even with the riches up front it is the core of the French side that leaves a sense of impenetrability.They have a defence Löw called “just outstanding” and a midfield of N’Golo Kanté, Adrien Rabiot and Pogba, who has that lovely tiptoed bounce and an eye for a pass which became increasingly important here.

Pogba might have had the opening goal, too, heading over a corner from Antoine Griezmann, a footballer quick footed and quick in thought too, liberated and linking it all together.

Even when France were not dominating, there was something about them that expressed the idea that they could accelerate at will, that they almost play within themselves and that they will get you some way.What no one expected was that it would be this way, Hummels providing an unfortunate finish to a neat move which culminated in a glorious ball from the outside of Pogba’s boot to Lucas Hernandez, who burst in to cross, the ball smashing off Hummels’s shin and past Neuer.

Immediately, Thomas Müller headed just past a post at the other end. A great chance also dropped for Ilkay Gündogan, but the Manchester City midfielder put it wide on the bounce. And Kai Havertz saw a shot blocked by Raphaël Varane.

Opportunities were not lacking, then, but when Pogba bent a gorgeous ball to Benzema to bring down on the chest it fit the idea forming that France were comfortable, as if aware of their superiority and convinced, if only at some subconscious level that they would win, by control or by counter.Mbappé underlined that when he put Ginter in a position no one wants to be in, exposed and watching the Paris Saint-Germain striker skipping past him. He did so again at the start of the second half when a sharp first-time pass released Rabiot, who struck a post.

There was still a match out there though and Germany were in it, Gnabry hitting a bouncing volley just over the bar from close range. The volume rose and Germany rose with it. Kimmich then delivered a wonderful cross that saw Robin Gosens fly in, wipe out Pavard, and fall into the six-yard box, where he accidentally blocked Kroos’s shot. This was different now, a momentum building: Löw’s side were faster, more aggressive.

But that threat was never realised and France’s threat never goes away, an open field invariably an open invitation. Mbappé’s seemingly effortless superiority was now showcased repeatedly.

Another clever Pogba ball allowed him to bend into the corner only for the flag to go up.Then he burned past Hummels but was finally caught as he was pulling the trigger. And another run seemed to have wrapped it all up when he rolled into Benzema to score.

Again, though, the flag was raised. It was tighter and more nervous than it might have been but defending is just another thing France do well and it is hard to avoid the suspicion that this win was just the start.

KK

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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