The din that greeted the final whistle served as an exorcism.
The French need never shudder again at the memory of traumas suffered at the hands of these opponents in Seville and Guadalajara three decades ago, or even the deflation endured in the steamy heat of the Maracanã at the last World Cup. They have wrested themselves free of a hold the Germans have had on them in competitive fixtures stretching back over half a century and in the process, removed the world champions from the tournament.
It was Antoine Griezmann, entirely appropriately, who skipped in delight at the head of the line of triumphant France players towards the home support on the Virage Sud at the final whistle, the victors leading the crowd in their version of an Icelandic “Huuh” before breaking away in frenzied celebration of their own. Those crammed into the stand, where the Russians had infamously charged English supporters almost a month ago, bounced along in sheer delight, waving their tricolores and drowning out the music blared out of the PA system with a chorus of La Marseillaise. This was an outpouring of joy.
Their team will trot out in Saint-Denis on Sunday as favourites to reclaim this trophy at Portugal’s expense, potentially elevating the current crop alongside the iconic, tournament-winning teams of 1984 and 1998. Those sides were inspired by Michel Platini and Zinédine Zidane respectively. Already, Griezmann is threatening to gatecrash that pantheon of French greats. “We’re like little kids enjoying it all,” the striker said. “There’s a whole country behind us and we have to give 100% for them. Now we have to win the final.”
This success was a validation of the team’s qualities. They had resisted stubbornly while Germany held sway before the interval, the world champions forever threatening to run riot even if they always lacked the required punch to make their domination tell. France held out, with Laurent Koscielny and Patrice Evra inspirational and Samuel Umtiti, on only his second appearance at this level, showcasing the maturity and quality that has recently earned a £24.6m transfer from Lyon to Barcelona. But this was not all about blanket defence. There was pace on the counterattack, and bite up front. Germany, at present, crave a goalscorer as confident and assured as Griezmann.
In time the 25-year-old may come to view this as his coming of age. He will emerge at the Stade de France with the tournament’s Golden Boot already as good as his, and with his name already being chorused in the same breath as Platini’s, his two goals here having swollen his tally to six this summer. He had demonstrated rare composure to convert the penalty in stoppage time of the first half that forced the French improbably ahead despite having missed a spot-kick for Atlético Madrid in the Champions League final in May. His second goal, prodded into a gaping net after Paul Pogba had teased space from the substitute Shkodran Mustafi and Manuel Neuer could only palm the ball to the edge of the area, was pilfered with glee.
Griezmann, like France, will hope success on Sunday plays a part in the healing process in the wake of the terrorist attacks of last November in Paris. His sister, Maud, had escaped unhurt from the Bataclan theatre on the night when 130 lost their lives in the city and Saint-Denis, where the striker had been playing for France against Germany in a friendly. France, a nation gripped since by civic unrest at the government reform of labour laws, has needed a positive story on which to cling. Didier Deschamps’ team have read the script even if, deep down, they will know fortune played its part in this semi-final success.
Joachim Löw’s post-match demeanour betrayed a man mystified by elimination, particularly given the dominance his team had enjoyed throughout virtually the entirety of the first half. After Neuer had denied Griezmann, the world champions imposed themselves with the pace and accuracy of their passing. It took Hugo Lloris and Umtiti to keep them out but even so, it only seemed like a matter of time before Thomas Müller found his range, or the excellence of Toni Kroos and Julian Draxler would reap rewards.
Then, in the last exchange of the opening period, Bastian Schweinsteiger leapt into an aerial challenge with Evra, his arms raised, and the ball flicked from the Frenchman’s head on to the German’s right hand from point-blank range. Nicola Rizzoli, much to the fury of the World Cup holders, awarded the penalty which Griezmann dispatched. From then on in, it was Löw’s team who appeared the more frazzled in their game of catch-up.
They had their opportunities but for all that Joshua Kimmich struck the woodwork, and Lloris somehow maintained Müller’s tournament duck with a staggering late save, the game reached a point where even Germany must have realised this was not to be their night. It belonged, instead, to France. “It was an extraordinary result,” Pogba said. It could well end up being an extraordinary tournament.
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