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France show champion’s class to defeat Germany in Euro 2020 opener

·4-min read
France celebrate their winner against Germany (Getty Images)
France celebrate their winner against Germany (Getty Images)

The scoreline didn’t particularly spell champions in waiting, but a performance overspilling with self-assurance spotlighted why France are considered favourites to storm the European Championships.

The decisive action of the fixture may have been an own goal, but that does not distort the reality that Germany tried and tried some more on Tuesday night to no avail.

N’Golo Kante was in ‘thou shalt not pass’ mode to stifle the first match of Joachim Low’s last tournament after 15 years in charge of Die Mannschaft.

Paul Pogba served up a passing masterclass while being a picture of strength in his duels, with Antoine Griezmann at his silky best, and Kylian Mbappe uncontainable for the most part.

France were so comfortable at the Allianz Arena, happy to allow their opponents the ball, lulling them into a false sense of security before switching gears and showing their might.

The blockbuster clash of the opening round, the certified ‘Do Not Miss’ began as a bit of a snooze: passive possession by Germany, some untidy passes from both teams, and then… bang!

When the clock struck 15, the ever-excellent Kante sparked a France attack and Benjamin Pavard’s dangerous low cross was just dealt with by a stretching Matthias Ginter.

The world champions were enlivened and Pogba should have converted Griezmann’s inswinging corner after getting the better of Antonio Rudiger, but shouldered an effort over the bar from six yards out.

Germany were a bit dazed and Mbappe furthered their feeling of fluster.

He burst infield, bypassing Ginter as though he was a hologram and hit a rocket towards the far corner that Manuel Neuer pushed around the post.

France’s five minutes of sustained pressure, chance creation and credence in their offensive abilities would count as a primer for their opener.

Pogba delivered a remarkable crossfield pass to Lucas Hernandez on the left and he looked to thunder it across goal for Mbappe. Mats Hummels, desperate to make a good impression after a high-profile recall, beat the Paris Saint-Germain speedster to the ball, but couldn’t mirror the pace to adjust his feet and belted the ball into his own net.

Thomas Muller, Germany’s other headline returnee, almost scrubbed off that error immediately. He elongated himself to make contact with Robin Gosens’ cross, but headed wide.

Toni Kroos couldn’t do any damage from two free-kicks, and down the other end, Low’s men were left crossing fingers.

Mbappe rinsed Hummels down the inside left, skipped into the area and attempted to find Karim Benzema. Ginter supplied a vital interception, but while Germany were dominating the ball, France were supremely threatening with it.

There was a rare opportunity of Low’s side bulldozing their opponents’ defensive wall, when Serge Gnabry’s slick invention saw him send an overhead flick towards Ilkay Gundogan.

The Manchester City midfielder was a goalscorer extraordinaire as his team strolled England’s top flight and reached the Champions League finals, but he didn’t connect well and his snatched shot flew well wide.

The most bite Germany had shown in the first 45 appeared when Rudiger weirdly took a nibble of Pogba’s back and squeezed his nipple, escaping any action for the on-field kink.

Low’s men were huffing and puffing with no joy as Kante coolly vacuumed everything, with Mbappe making Hummels wish the recall never happened.

Pogba was effortlessly decorating the match with Adrien Rabiot superb and the 1-0 scoreline seemed overly kind to Germany.

The latter hit the post with a curler after fine Mbappe play, which was a massive let-off for Germany. They should have punished France for wastefulness when Gosens broke down the left and crossed for an unmarked Gnabry.

He could only mishit a volley into the ground, with the ball clearing Hugo Lloris and sitting on the roof of the net.

Germany’s first corner of the game materialised on 61 minutes, which provided a neat summary of their futile efforts.

France, hardly breaking a sweat, would light up in the final third. Benzema had a shot blocked and Mbappe had a magnificent piece of play - twisting his marker, curling into the net off the far post - ruled out for offside after receiving Pogba’s pass.

As Germany pushed for a leveller, huge wells of space opened up for Mbappe to motor into.

Hummels was fortunate not to give away a penalty after slicing through the forward to win the ball, but perhaps the referee had decided the defender’s return was already enough of a horror show.

Mbappe was off again after more wonderful work from Pogba and played in Benzema, whose happy welcome back was not crowned with a goal due to being fractionally offside.

Leroy Sane, brought on as a substitute, didn’t hit the target with a free-kick late on in a dangerous area. That was Germany’s display in essence: distinctly, by some great distance, second best to France.

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