Not yet magnifique but France look force to be reckoned with

A first-half Mats Hummels own goal was enough to decide the meeting between two of the three powerhouses in what is comfortably Euro 2020’s most glamorous group
Not yet magnifique but France look force to be reckoned with

Mats Hummels of Germany looks dejected after scoring an own goal for France's winner in the Euro 2020 clash. Picture: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Germany 0 France 1

The controversy swirling around the recall of Karim Benzema behind them, for the time being at least, France returned to doing what they do best in Munich last night, grinding out impressive victories in major football tournaments.

A first-half Mats Hummels own goal was enough to decide the meeting between two of the three powerhouses in what is comfortably Euro 2020’s most glamorous group.

It was a contest dominated in large parts by Paul Pogba, who continues to raise eyebrows at the gulf between his general performance level for Manchester United and his peerless form for his country.

Pogba was also involved in the night’s most bizarre incident when his marker Antonio Rudiger grappled with him off the ball and appeared, from one video angle at least, to attempt to bite the Frenchman in the back — an incident which Uefa may look at in the coming days.

But while Germany enjoyed the better of the second half, it was an ominously professional display by the French, even if they failed to get a player on the scoresheet.

More than two years ago, Hummels was told his international career was over by Joachim Low after the disappointment of Germany’s under-achieving 2018 World Cup campaign.

Last night, he must have wished he had not answered the call when he turned the opening goal into his own net after 20 minutes although, as well as good fortune, it also owed a lot to Pogba’s genius.

The midfielder spotted overlapping full-back Lucas Hernandez and found him with a breathtaking curling pass with the outside of his right boot, landing the ball on the Bayern Munich man’s feet.

Hernandez drilled over a lethal volleyed cross and Hummels, in trying to stop the ball reaching Kylian Mbappe, could only divert it into his own net with an outstretched foot.

It was the breakthrough a fairly cautious, game had needed although the French had been building momentum — not least when Pogba headed over a glorious chance from Antoine Griezmann’s 15th-minute corner.

Mbappe also forced Manuel Neuer into the first save of the game but, after going behind, Germany responded impressively.

Thomas Muller, recalled by Low along with Hummels after the pair were jettisoned in March 2019, glanced a header wide from a threatening Robin Gosens cross.

Toni Kroos was also presented with a couple of free-kicks in promising positions although without ever forcing Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris into action.

And, before the break, Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan had a glorious opportunity as he connected with Serge Gnabry’s intelligent overhead pass but could only plant a half-volley wide under pressure from Pogba.

The game was opening up, a fact that suited France with their superior athleticism and pace, and was presenting Didier Deschamps’ team with a stage upon which they could live up to the billing as pre-tournament favourites.

The French coach was seeking to add the European Championships to the World Cup he collected with his team three years ago and, in so doing, become the first man in history to win the two trophies as a player and manager.

That was the legacy that Deschamps, winner of World Cup and Euros in 1998 and 2000 as a player, was looking to build on with his nation having now overtaken Germany, surely, as the tournament specialists that nobody in their right mind wants to face.

Indeed, France entered the Euros having won 14 of the 19 matches they have played in the two tournaments since the 2014 World Cup; an astonishing run of consistency which explained why not even the presence of Portugal in the proverbial Group of Death could shift them from their status as favourites.

Not that Deschamps’ preparations had been all plain sailing. Just as Low had recalled Hummels and Muller, the French had brought back Benzama, from six years in the international wilderness.

That dislodged Olivier Giroud from Deschamps’ starting line-up, and led to debate about whether Benzema, and his chequered past in French football, was worth indulging but the potential of linking Benzema with Griezmann and Mbappe was too tempting for their manager to resist.

There were certainly enough high quality moments between the trio to suggest it was a calculated gamble Deschamps was duty bound to pursue and, with Pogba and, of course, N’Golo Kante in this sort of form, France are a formidable proposition.

Kante picked up where he left off in Chelsea’s Champions League Final victory, covering unfathomable acres of space, prodding his own team forward and repeatedly breaking up German possession.

If Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot had done better early in the second half, hitting the post left-footed when he should have squared for an unmarked Griezmann to score, the evening would have been far more comfortable for the visitors.

Instead, with the vast majority of the 14,000 crowd cheering them on, Germany looked well capable of finding an equaliser, especially when Gosens’ cross picked out Gnabry who volleyed just over.

It was the start of the hosts’ best spell of the game with a brilliant Joshua Kimmich cross soon finding Gosens at the far post only for the wing-back to foul Benjamin Pavard as he jumped.

Twice, France thought they had eased the pressure when Mbappe bent in a breathtaking finish after 66 minutes and then, six minutes from time, when he set up Benzema for a tap-in, although both were ruled out for offside.

GERMANY: Neuer 6; Ginter 6 (Can 87), Hummels 5, Rüdiger 6; Kimmich 7, Gundogan 6, Kroos 5, Gosens 7 (Volland 87); Havertz 5 (Sane 73, 6), Muller 6; Gnabry 6 (Werner 73, 5).

FRANCE: Lloris 6; Pavard 6, Varane 7, Kimpembe 7, Hernandez 6; Pogba 9, Kante 8, Rabiot 6 (Dembele 90); Griezmann 7, Benzema 7 (Tolisso 88), Mbappe 8.

Referee: Carlos de Cerro Grande (Spain) 6.

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