By Simon Evans, Outside the Box
MARSEILLE – Antoine Griezmann was the hero for France as they defeated world champions Germany 2-0 in the Stade Velodrome on Thursday to reach the final of Euro 2016 where they will face Portugal.
Griezmann, who missed a penalty for Atletico Madrid in their Champions League final loss to Real Madrid in May, will now have a chance for revenge against the man who struck the winning shoot-out spot kick in that game – Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
But club narratives will be far from the mind of the outstanding Griezmann who is the tournament’s top scorer with six goals – the second most ever in a tournament behind compatriot Michel Platini who scored nine in their triumphant 1984 campaign.
Not since the 1958 World Cup had Germany lost to the French in a competitive game.
France have a chance to add their third European title adding to that success and that of 2000, which came two years after their World Cup triumph, on home soil.
While Ronaldo, after his decisive display against Wales in Wednesday’s other semifinal, will surely be a threat, the French should start as favourites at the Stade de France on Sunday.
Germany, hit by injuries and suspension, will though feel that they did enough to deserve more from the game and have cause for some sense of injustice about the opening goal, a penalty awarded on the stroke of half-time.
After dominating the opening half, playing some classy and controlled passing football, the Germans went in a goal down after Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli ruled that Schweinsteiger had handled the ball while jumping for a header with Patrice Evra.
Replays suggested there was contact between the German’s arm and the ball but it was certainly debatable whether or not that contact was intentional, although Germany coach Joachim Loew later conceded the decision was justified given his player had led with the arm.
Despite the German protests, Griezmann kept his cool sending goalkeeper Manuel Neuer the wrong way and sending his team into the half-time break with a precious lead gained firmly against the run of play.
Boosted by their lead there was an extra edge to France after the break and Germany, increasing the urgency in their play, lost some of their composure and struggled to orchestrate much in the final third.
France doubled their lead in the 72nd minute and this time there could be no complaint from the Germans after a calamitous piece of defending.
Joshua Kimmich was caught on the ball inside his own area by Paul Pogba who then jinked past Shkodran Mustafi and put over a cross which Germany keeper Manuel Neuer could only flap out to Griezmann who poked the ball into the net.
Kimmich almost made amends for his error within two minutes – his curling left-foot shot which struck the top of the post and it was the defender who had a powerful header saved on the online in injury time.
France held on though for a win that was deserved in the end and which sets up the chance for a national celebration in Paris on Sunday.
Outside the Box is a Univision soccer blog by Simon Evans a British-born, Miami-based sports journalist who has covered every World Cup since 1998 and has worked across Europe and North America covering football for a number of international media outlets. He was the co-author of the ‘Rough Guide to European Football’ and his work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Guardian, Reuters and many other publications. @sgevans