France reaches final of Euro 2016
Defeats Germany 2-0 in Marseille
Antoine Griezmann scores twice
France will face Portugal in final on Sunday
It’ll be a party in Paris – and France will be there.
As it did in 1984 and again in 1998, France reached the final of a home football tournament after stunning world champion Germany 2-0 in Marseille Thursday.
Antoine Griezmann, one of the outstanding players of the past season, scored both goals to set up a final clash with Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal team at Stade de France on Sunday.
For France, a nation which has endured a turbulent year in the wake of the Paris attacks, much of the focus has been on events off the field of play.
But on a night of high tension it was the country’s footballers who did it proud, producing a battling performance to see off a German side which had knocked it out of the World Cup two years ago.
For France, which won the Euros on home soil in 1984 and the World Cup in 1998, this represents another opportunity to secure sporting immortality.
It was a hard-fought victory for a team which had approached this tie with a certain amount of trepidation given the reputation of its opponent.
“I’m absolutely delighted and very proud,” said Griezmann, whose six goals are double the next highest scorer at the tournament.
“There’s still one match to go to finish with a flourish; it’s going to be very tricky but I hope this won’t be the end of things.
“It’s our duty to win matches for the French public, and let’s hope we can finish on a high too.”
Crashing the party
No team in the history of international football has crashed more parties than Germany – just ask the six host nations it has kicked out of tournaments at the semifinal stage.
Few will forget the excruciating beating it gave Brazil at the World Cup two years ago – a 7-1 thrashing which left not only the players but an entire country decimated, and another jubilant as Germany later lifted the trophy.
In the semi, Germany led by five goals with just 29 minutes on the clock – it was not just a run-of-the-mill defeat but a national humiliation.
Others have been dealt with in rather gentler fashion, though their sentences were no less unforgiving.
In 2002, South Korea was dumped out of the World Cup it was co-hosting with Japan, as Michael Ballack’s goal took Germany into a final clash with Brazil.
Euro ’96 host England was made to suffer – beaten on penalties before Germany won the final days later at Wembley.
Four years earlier, Germany ousted host Sweden but lost the final to Denmark.
In 1976, Yugoslavia was vanquished as Dieter Muller scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 win to lead his team into the European Championship final, where Germany was beaten on penalties – its only shootout defeat – by Czechoslovakia.
In 1972, Germany beat Belgium in the last four, then defeated the Soviet Union 2-0 in the final.
The only time Germany faltered in the semis against the host nation was way back in 1958, when Sweden claimed a 3-1 win at the World Cup.
So perhaps, given its history and experience on the big stage, it was not wholly surprising that Germany produced a fine first-half performance.
After an initial period of French pressure which forced Manuel Neuer to turn Antoine Griezmann’s effort away, it was all Germany.
France, without the holding midfield presence of N’Golo Kante – who was left on the bench after a suspension – failed to deal with the movement of the Germans, who dominated possession.
First, Thomas Muller slid his effort wide of the far post after reaching Emre Can’s cross as the world champions flexed their muscles.
Can, making his first start of the tournament, then went close himself, firing an effort into the ground and towards goal which Hugo Lloris parried.
While France struggled to keep hold of the ball, Germany eased upfield with ease.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, captaining the side, forced Lloris to turn his drive over the crossbar as France barely managed to get out of its own half.
And yet, it was the host which should have taken the lead just before the interval.
Olivier Giroud, who had been rather anonymous, took advantage of a rare mistake by Jerome Boateng and ran towards goal.
The Arsenal striker headed towards the penalty area, but his lack pace allowed Benedikt Höwedes to produce a sublime sliding tackle.
With the game heading towards halftime, France looked relieved to have seemingly escaped without conceding.
And yet, in the second minute of added time, the tie was turned on its head.
Patrice Evra’s header towards goal was blocked by the arm of Schweingsteiger and referee Nicola Rizzoli awarded the penalty on the advice of his assistant.
Griezmann stood up to fire the ball past Neuer for his leading fifth goal of the tournament, leaving the Germans stunned.
Germany, clearly still bewildered by falling behind, failed to recapture the form it had shown earlier in the contest.
That palpable sense of self-belief appeared to have evaporated, with doubt now growing ever faster into its game.
The loss of defender Boateng to a hamstring injury further weakened Germany’s cause as a sense of desperation began to set in.
That sense of desperation was increased further when Griezmann doubled France’s lead with 18 minutes remaining.
A mistake by Joshua Kimmich allowed Paul Pogba to run in behind the German defense and, after an outrageous dummy, his cross caused panic in the penalty area, allowing Griezmann to stab home when Neuer flapped ineffectively at the ball.
Those in the white shirts of Germany fell to the floor – those in the blue of France skipped away in jubilation and possibly even disbelief.
Still, Germany continued to fight. Kimmich, whose error had led to the second goal, curled an exquisite effort against the post from 20 yards, while Draxler fired his effort inches wide.
Leroy Sane, on as a substitute for Schweinsteiger, went close with his first touch but his effort dribbled wide before Höwedes headed over from close range.
The constant near misses appeared to have broken the German spirit, it had no answer.
That cloak of invincibility which had long been worn around its neck at tournament football had slipped.
France, backed by a vociferous crowd, held firm, stood tall and refuse to yield.
Even when the defense was breached, Lloris was there to deny Kimmich’s fierce header.
The celebrations started as soon as the referee blew the final whistle – the dancing, the singing – joy unconfined.
But the biggest party of all is yet to come – and in a certain Mr. Ronaldo, there could yet be a rather unwelcome guest.