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France, Germany can provide group stage's best game

Written by 
Published in Soccer
Tuesday, 15 June 2021 01:39

France vs. Germany is one of the most anticipated matchups of the Euro 2020 group stage, and it could well be one of the games of the tournament. So much hinges on their Group F clash given that Portugal are also in their group, with a defeat in Tuesday's game -- stream LIVE on ESPN, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+ -- potentially spelling disaster for the loser's chances of making the knockout round and getting a favorable draw.

ESPN's Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens are here to get you ready for the match.

Julien Laurens: Ah the Germans, our fiercest rivals!

The history of modern French football is full of chapters involving Germany, from their meeting at the 1982 World Cup, of course -- just watch this video -- to Euro 2016, when France won 2-0 in their semifinal. It's also true at the club level, from the European Cup final in 1976 at Hampden Park, and the infamous square posts, to the 2020 Champions League final between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich behind closed doors in Lisbon.

On Tuesday, we will turn a new page. There is one big difference this time, though: the French are favourites. Not just favourites, actually; we are big favourites, huge favourites. We are gargantuan! Usually, it's Germany; they're known for ruthlessness, efficiency and their ability to always find a way to win when it matters. Not this time.

This time, France have that strength within them, like they showed in Russia at the 2018 World Cup. France have the best squad, the best starting XI, the best head coach, the momentum, the confidence, the swag.

What do Germany have in return, apart from a manager on his way out, the best holding midfielder in the world (Joshua Kimmich) who ends up playing at right-back, and a dodgy defence?

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Gab Marcotti: Right ... So first off, don't flatter yourself. Germany are everybody's biggest rival: the Dutch, the Italians, the English ... it's inevitable. Germany set the standard in Europe and, in particular, at the Euros. There's a reason Germany have won it more times than anyone. There's a reason Germany have also reached the semifinals in each of the past three Euros.

So, frankly, the fact that France are favourites doesn't really faze me. They were favourites in 2016 against Portugal at the Stade de France too, right? How'd that work out? In fact, weren't Les Bleus favourites when France met Germany in the quarterfinal in Rio in 2014, after Germany were nearly knocked out by Algeria? We know how that worked out. And yes, Mats Hummels, who scored that day, is back. Lucky you.

I'm not going to deny that France have a better squad and a better XI, but this is a team sport. You want to go through this? Let's do it.

Let's start with the manager. I won't deny that Jogi Low has had a rough time of late as manager, and is a bit of an acquired taste. I'm sure France's Didier Deschamps is more fun on a night out, but Low has won before and he knows this is his last hurrah. That has a way of clarifying, of simplifying; he doesn't need to build the future of Germany here, he just needs a performance over seven games.

He'll keep it simple. He'll follow the script German teams have used at the club level to be successful: attack and press. The players understand the situation and will do the rest.

What will Deschamps do? Reward his favourites with places in the lineup, play four central defenders across the back and simply have Paul Pogba lumping it long for Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema to chase? Real sophisticated, that. Real modern. You might have the confidence and the swagger, but you have a fundamentally conservative and defensive coach.

It worked out in 2018 because Jorge Sampaoli's Argentina were on a self-destruct mission and because Belgium's finishing was off. Don't get too cocky ...

Laurens: I think you must have watched the World Cup of another sport in 2018! France destroyed Argentina not because of Sampaoli, but mostly because Mbappe was unplayable that day. What finishing was "off" for Belgium in the semifinal? They had a lot of the ball and could not do anything with it. They are still so upset about it that it still makes me laugh!

If anything, France have become "old school" under Deschamps. You win because you are pragmatic, and Deschamps is a winner by essence. Quarterfinals in 2014, final in 2016, winner in 2018: no one has done better and certainly not "Jogi Bear," who has clearly lost his touch and cannot wait for his retirement.

Low has had more lives than a cat in the past few years. How did he survive the fiasco of 2018? How did he make it past the humiliating 6-0 defeat against Spain, or the more embarrassing loss against North Macedonia? So, sorry, but we don't fear him, and we don't fear Hummels, who was one of the best centre-backs in the world back in 2014, but is now not even the best at Borussia Dortmund!

Germany can attack and press as much as they want. With the return up front of Benzema, after five-and-a-half years away from Les Bleus, this is a much stronger team. They are playing differently than in 2018, with more of the ball and more flair. The front three of Benzema, Mbappé and Griezmann is surely the best front three in this competition. Mbappé himself is a different and more mature player than three years ago.

N'Golo Kante is the best midfielder in the world right now and can dominate any team, and any game, by himself. When he plays alongside Pogba, they are yet to lose a single game (21 wins and six draws in 27 caps together). France have everything, including the arrogance that you are referring to. But who cares?

And by the way, Germany won the World Cup in 2014 with three centre-backs in their back four (Boateng, Hummels, Howedes), so we just went one better in 2018. And France have never lumped anything long, so they won't start on Tuesday ...


Sami Khedira previews Group F of Euro 2020

World Cup winner Sami Khedira shares his thoughts on Germany and the powerhouse countries in Group F.

Marcotti: Jogi Bear? Classy Juls. Bet he never heard that one before.

Look, I'm not going to argue that Germany have better players or that France aren't favorites, but you might want to dial down the cockiness just a bit.

Germany have a better keeper (Manuel Neuer over Hugo Lloris). They have a more talented midfield -- yeah, I love Kante too, but when it comes to stuff midfielders are supposed to do when in possession, I'll take Ilkay Gundogan or Toni Kroos ... passing matters.

I know you're super-excited for Benzema's return, but Germany have a returning guy too, Thomas Muller, and he too has achieved a thing or two. And Germany have width and one-on-one guys down the wings like Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry whom, frankly, France don't have.

I'll admit, I have no idea what version of Low we'll see and whether he'll make things better or worse, but I do know Deschamps won't make France more than the sum of their parts. Which is why I'm happy to lean Germany.

Laurens: And I am happy to lean France, of course. This will be a fantastic football game, with two teams full of world-class players. Les Bleus are probably favourites, but we know that doesn't always mean that you will win the game.

Football's history is ready for another epic chapter between France and Germany, like in previous years. It's Deschamps vs. Low, Raphael Varane vs Hummels, Benzema vs. Muller, Mbappe vs. Kai Havertz, Kante vs. Kroos; the list of individual battles is huge. However, the winners will be the ones who are the strongest collectively. And I still think that will be France.

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