Night when players regained affection of French fans

For France, this was about more than trying to win a football match. This glorious sporting occasion in Marseilles represented a chance to restore the pride and faith of a nation.

Night when players regained affection of French fans

It was during a friendly between the hosts and the Germans last November that one of three suicide bombers near the Stade de France triggered a series of terror attacks that killed 130 people and left a nation in mourning.

Far less significant, of course, was the exit of the French from the World Cup six years ago when they went on strike and returned home winless and in shame.

The players still trying to make amends in last night’s squad from their final group game in 2010 were goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, right-back Bacary Sagna, forward Andre-Pierre Gignac, and defender Patrice Evra, a disillusioned substitute against South Africa having been outed as one of the arch agitators.

France football had lost the support of the people and less than impressive displays at the next two major tournaments did little to change how footballers are viewed in a nation often more enthused by rugby.

While it would be wrong to equate football with death and war, it was visible here last night how a nation has recovered some self-belief and confidence with a little help from football.

The national anthem was repeatedly belted it out with pride and passion before, during, and after this memorable match as Didier Deschamps’ men played with a remarkable sense of unity and a tireless work ethic, even as Germany dominated the first half.

So far from 2010. So far from November.

French President François Hollande was at the Stade de France on the night of those ill-fated attacks and it was noticeable his image was displayed on screens proudly wearing his France football scarf before kick-off.

Even a defeat at the semi-final stage would not have lost the support of the French people, near the end of a well-organised tournament and the more humble winning approach of Deschamps’ players.

Deschamps, of course, won the World Cup and European Championship as a player and is now one match away — against Portugal this Sunday — from further increasing his standing as Le Boss.

Not bad for the man they called the water carrier.

Deschamps needed his water carriers to combat the Germans last night as they sat back after a stirring first five minutes, chasing the ball and German shadows for most of the first half before they were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half-time. The cool and magnificent

Antoine Griezmann slotted home for a a fortuitous lead.

Griezmann had already shown flashes of brilliance, just as he had all season for Atletico Madrid, but the fact France were still in the match at all owed as much to their tireless defending against Germany’s relentless, probing passing.

But as Leicester City proved in the Premier League last season, possession does not win games — it’s those goals what does that for you.

The penalty breathed life and belief into the French players and supporters as they started the second half as they had the first, with the strut of a team that believed they could win.

With a French wall of sound to support them, who could blame them?

Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud fluffed a chance soon after the restart, just as he had towards the end of the first half, but by putting his neck, head, and feet on the line for his side it inspired his comrades to follow suit.

Griezmann is a different player but a perfect foil and his second goal, following a great pass from Paul Pogba, oozed quality.

The stats showed France always lose these major showdowns against the men in white and black, but Les Bleus are a team and nation possessed at the moment.

They will be favourites to beat Portugal in Paris this Sunday evening and more than a few neutrals are likely to be cheering against them.

For Germany’s part, they never let their heads drop and were the better team for so long until Bastian Schweinsteiger’s debatable handball gave Griezmann his penalty chance.

They will be back and possibly favourites to win the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

But there is only one football match that matters now. It takes place in Paris this Sunday and the feeling is that France has already won.

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