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Thursday’s match between France and Germany in Marseille could’ve easily been the final. Alas, these two giants were forced to meet in the final four for a chance to play Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal for the European crown. Neither France, nor Germany had lost a single game this tournament, and I don’t think they wanted to start now. On one hand, the French attack possessed three of the top five players in the golden boot race, and on the other, the German defense hadn’t let in a goal from open play the entire tournament. Could the hosts burst their way through the Germans’ wall, or would Joachim Löw’s team hold fast for a ticket to the final?

Six minutes into the match, France had the first big chance. Antoine Griezmann was found by Blase Matuidi on the edge of the box, and the Atlético Madrid striker shimmied past the German defense before sending a low shot towards the far corner. Manuel Neuer was positioned perfectly, however, and easily pushed the striker’s shot aside.

After Griezmann’s early chance, Germany began to take control of the match. Thomas Müller and Emre Can both tried their luck with the latter forcing Hugo Lloris into an eye-catching diving save. In the 25th minute, Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was making his 38th appearance at a major tournament (a world record), tried an ambitious shot from outside the box, but the Tottenham keeper was there to tip it over the bar.

Almost 20 minutes later, Olivier Giroud took advantage of a rare lapse in judgment from Jerome Boateng at the halfway line and found himself seemingly through on goal. Unfortunately for the French fans, Giroud didn’t quite have the speed as Benedikt Höwedes made a heroic run back to slide in and disarm the Arsenal striker.

The big moment of drama came in the first minute of stoppage time. A corner kick from France seemed innocuous enough as it was cleared away, but the official called for a penalty kick. The replay showed that Schweinsteiger’s hand had made contact with the ball following Patrice Evra’s header, and commentators around the world argued whether or not it deserved a penalty kick. Regardless, Griezmann stepped up and then sent Neuer the wrong way to give France a one-goal lead right before the break. Could Germany recover?

A strong start to the half for France saw Giroud and Griezmann both lash out efforts in the penalty area, but neither were able to test Neuer between the pipes. Germany didn’t seem to have the same attacking mentality that saw them play so positively in the first half, and it would eventually come back to bite them.

In the 72nd minute, careless play from Joshua Kimmich gifted the ball to Paul Pogba in the German penalty area. The Juventus midfielder took the ball to the wide area, and then with a quick swerve of the hips he made a yard of space for himself past Jonas Hector. His cross was beaten away unconvincingly by Neuer and the rebound fell right to Griezmann. The tournament’s leading goal scorer made no mistake as he poked the ball home and France now found themselves two goals ahead after Griezmann’s sixth goal of the tournament.

Moments after Griezmann’s goal, Kimmich came within inches of atoning for his mistake. The 21-year-old curled in a lovely shot from outside the box, but it smacked against the outside of the post and went out for a goal kick. Two minutes later, Julian Draxler’s free kick looked destined for the far post, but it couldn’t curve enough and it flew wide.

The Germans began to look desperate for a goal as they threw men forward, but none of their stars could get a shot on target. Höwedes had a great look at goal from a set piece in the 82nd minute, only to send his header just over the bar. The last roll of the dice from Germany came in the 93rd minute when Shkodran Mustafi sent a header towards the corner of the net, but it just wasn’t meant to be as Lloris produced his best save of the night to maintain his clean sheet and seal a 2-0 win for the hosts.

The win means that France will travel to Saint Denis to take on Portugal in the final. The French squad have started to hit their stride at the perfect moment, and have to be considered the favorite to take home the title. Les Bleus haven’t won a major trophy since Euro 2000, can they end the drought on their home ground?


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