MUNICH: France, most observers’ favourites to add the European crown to their World Cup, set off to a winninng start with a 1-0 Group F victory over Germany.
Coach Didier Deschamps will not be satisfied with all aspects of the performance but first-game cameos from the likes of Kylian Mbappe, KArim Benzema, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Raphael Varane promises plenty of improvement to come.
Deschamps had more reason, certainly, to feel confident in this Group of Death than opposite number Joachim Low. The Germans must improve their finishing if they hope to progress in the dying embers of Low’s reign as coach.
A Greenpeace protester parachuted down into the stadium before kickoff but was dealt with more effectively by security than the German defence would cope with the French attack in the opening exchanges.
Germany’s departing coach Joachim Low had gone backwards in time by recalling several of the ‘golden oldies’ discarded after the 2018 World Cup embarrassment while France had strengthened their attacking potential by reprieving the long-absent Real Madrid centre-forward Benzema.
France were the more threatening. Pogba pushed a header over the bar in the 16th minute then German keeper Manuel Neuer dived to push an Mbappe shot wide for a corner.
Neuer was helpless in the 20th minute, however, when Pogba’s crossfield ball opened up the German right flank for Lucas Hernandez to dash forward and cross into the goal area where the wrongfooted Mats Hummels thumped the ball into his own net.
Germany failed to manage even one shot on target in the first half. The best chance fell to Ilkay Gundogan but the Manchester City midfielder shot wide.
France might have extended their lead early in the second half when Adrien Rabiot escaped down the left only to smack his shot in to the outside of Neuer’s right-hand post.
That escape prompted Germany to push forward with renewed determination but Serge Gnabry, presented with time and space, mis-hit his shot into the ground from where it bounced up and over the goal of diving Hugo Lloris.
Germany, for all their intensity and determination, were vulnerable to Mbappe’s pace on the counter-attack. The Paris Saint-Germain forward appeared to have created a second goal for Benzema but VAR ruled the ‘goal’ out for a marginal offside.
Still, they deserved the three points.
France: Lloris – Pavard, Varane, Kimpembe, Lucas Hernandez – Kante – Rabiot, Griezmann, Pogba – Benzema (Tolisso 89), Mbappe.
Subs: Lenglet, Lemar, Giroud, Dembele, Zouma, Mandanda, Digne, Coman, Ben Yedder, Maignan, Kounde.
Germany: Neuer – Ginter (Can 88), Hummels, Rudiger – Kimmich, Kroos, Gundogan, Gosens (Volland 88), Havertz (Sane 74), Muller, Gnabry (Werner 74).
Subs: Halstenberg, Leno, Sule, Klostermann, Neuhaus, Trapp, Koch, Gunter.
Referee: Del Cerro Grande (Spa).