IT HAS taken France 58 years to defeat Germany when it matters on the football pitch and, following a tumultuous evening in Marseille, they did it with a beaming smile on their faces with the exuberance of Antoine Griezmann carrying the hosts into the Euro 2016 final.
By scoring both goals in France’s 2-0 victory against the world champions, Griezmann took his tally for this tournament to six goals – moving him clear of Zinedine Zidane and second only to Michel Platini in the French scoring charts at European Championships – and secured his status as the nation’s new poster boy.
The 25-year-old, whose sister Maude survived the terror attack at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris last November, has been the all-smiling kid next door who has enchanted France and ensured the backing of a sceptical nation whose part-time love for the national team has now become a full-blown affair once again.
The son of a French father and Portuguese mother will now face the Portuguese at the Stade de France on Monday morning (AEST) aiming to emulate Platini and Zidane by leading France to major tournament success on home soil.
And having overcome the Germans, Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo should hold few fears for the French.
Marseille may hold fond memories for the French, with the Michel Platini-inspired team defeating Portugal in Stade Velodrome in an epic semi-final at Euro 84, but it tends to require more than positive omens to overcome Germany in tournament football.
Not since the 1958 World Cup, when Just Fontaine scored four goals in a 6-3 third-fourth place playoff in Gothenburg, had France triumphed against their neighbours in a major tournament.
France lost successive World Cup semi-finals against West Germany in 1982 and 1986 before succumbing to Joachim Low’s team at the quarter-final stage two years ago as the Germans progressed to a fourth world title.
So Germany held the upper hand psychologically against a young, promising French team, but one that lacked the nous and experience of the world champions.
It was men against boys in the sense of the Germans knowing how to go course and distance, but France coach Didier Deschamps – the captain of Aime Jacquet’s 1998 World Cup winners – was determined to be bold, encouraging his young team to go on the front foot.
It was risky tactic, with Leicester City’s N’Golo Kante failing to reclaim his place in the team following suspension, but France’s strengths lie in their pace and exuberance and Deschamps went for broke against a German team weakened by the suspension of defender Mats Hummels and loss of the injured Sami Khedira.
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