The match between France and Germany was the biggest so far in the tournament, and understandably so: few teams in the World (except Brazil) can boast of such storied football history as these two teams. Earlier in the day, Portugal had beaten Hungary and both France and Germany knew that failure to win would make the Group of Death just a little more tough.
The Germans, at home this time, started as a home team should: on the front. In the first ten minutes, the French barely got the ball. The German midfield seemed to be getting the better of their French counterparts, but the French absorbed the pressure well, and Paul Pogba had the first good chance of the match off a corner but headed wide and seconds later, Mbappe brought out a good save from Neuer to deny France.
The momentum was now firmly with France, and minutes later, they took the lead. It started with Pogba, whose cross-field pass found Hernandez. He belted it across the face of the goal towards Mbappe. Although Hummels got there first, he got his feet in a tangle and ended up spooning the ball in his own net. The man who had scored seven years ago against France in the World Cup now scored a goal for them.
Quite often, group matches between big teams tend to be a placid affair but not this one. Germany tried hard to score but there seemed a familiar figure blocking them everywhere on the pitch. N’Golo Kante is quite simply the best midfielder in the world right now and there is something magical about watching him play. No one can cover the ground with such ferocity as him, yet so gentle in his tackles.
If Genarro Gattuso, the great Italian and AC Milan defender, was a raging bull, Kante is a modern metronome and an insult to lesser mortals. Even on a star-studded pitch, there was Kante, head and shoulders above everyone else; helping his defence, playing delightful passes to Pogba (who just has a different swagger when playing for France), and managing to smile too. France went into the half-time with the lead intact.
The second half started with the same frantic pace, and in the 52nd minute France should have taken the lead, but Rabiot decided to shoot instead of passing it to a pleading Griezmann and hit the post. Minutes later, Gnabry nearly equalised for the Germans but his efforts sailed over a diving Neuer.
Despite numerous attempts by Germany, France never looked unperturbed or like a team hellbent on defending their one-goal advantage. Mbappe thought he had scored a wonderful solo effort, only to be deemed offside.
With 18 minutes to go, Germany made a double substitution: off came Gnabry and Havertz for Sane and Werner respectively. Mbappe again thought he had teed up the winner, this time for Benzema, but it was once again ruled offside. Germany had been chasing the game since the 20th minute, but the French defence had never really looked threatened and Lloris was yet to make a big save.
With 5 minutes to go, Germany threw in Emre Can and Kevin Volland, but the French held on for a famous victory. The tournament favourites had made the perfect start, and Germany, despite a good performance, were left empty handed.
France (4-3-3) Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Kimpembe, Hernandez; Kante; Pogba, Rabiot; Griezmann, Benzema, Mbappe.
Substitutes: Mandanda, Maignan, Lenglet, Lemar, Giroud, Dembele, Tolisso, Zouma, Digne, Coman, Ben Yedder, Kounde.
Germany (3-4-3) Neuer; Rudiger, Hummels, Ginter; Kimmich, Gundogan, Kroos, Gosens; Havertz, Gnabry, Muller.
Substitutes: Leno, Trapp, Halstenberg, Volland, Werner, Sule, Klostermann, Neuhaus, San, Emre Can, Koch, Gunter.
Referee Carlos del Cerro Grande (Spain).
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