France 1 Germany 0 in Munich
The team with the best players do not always win the tournament. But the one thing we can say with confidence after Tuesday night is that France have the best players.
The pick of them were midfielders N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba, but the forward line of Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé may be the best of any team at a big tournament since Brazil fielded Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho at the World Cup of 2002.
The game’s only goal came on 20 minutes, when Pogba dropped a perfectly weighted outside-of-the-right-foot lob into the path of Lucas Hernandez, who sent in a low cross. The Germany centre-back Mats Hummels, armed with the terrifying knowledge that Mbappé was behind him, accidentally hit an unstoppable half-volley off his shin past his own goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer.
It was the tournament’s third own goal after just 12 games, already equalling the record set by Euro 2016. Perhaps the frenzied pace of today’s game drives defenders to it.
France found the net twice more in the second half, through Mbappé and Benzema, but both strikes were narrowly ruled offside. Adrien Rabiot hit the post from another gorgeous pass, this one from Mbappé, and France should probably have had a penalty when Hummels appeared to bring down Mbappé.
The power balance between these countries historically skewed towards Germany, but no longer: France are now unbeaten in six straight games against the old rival.
The one Germany player on Tuesday night who would definitely get into the France team was right-half Joshua Kimmich, who always made the correct decision and consistently had the beating of Hernández. The caveat is that Kimmich should probably have had a second yellow card in the first half for kicking the left-back in the face.
France look awesome. Eight of the side who played on Tuesday night started in the 4-2 victory over Croatia in the 2018 World Cup final. If one had to pick weak spots, they would be in defence: Presnel Kimpembe is uncomfortable on the ball, while Benjamin Pavard and Hernandez are not the world’s best full-backs. All their teammates, though, are world-class, and the French know each other’s game inside out.
After three years without high competition, the team have now got serious, as demonstrated by the relentless defensive pressing by the front three.
Pogba is the all-in-one midfielder, with the build of an ogre and the touch of a little ball conjuror. At the height of his powers, in the heart of a much better team than his club, Manchester United, he was looking not merely to win but to express himself.
There was a phase when he lost concentration, as nonchalance crept in and he played too much at a stroll. The game can get too easy for him.
Beside him in central midfield, Kanté kept popping up on opponents’ blind side to tackle, intercept, and, when opportune, to foul. He has shown in late career that he can dribble, too.
He has already picked up the Champions League with Chelsea, and if France win Euro 2020, he should be a candidate for the Golden Ball for World Footballer of the Year.
Meanwhile, Germany risk being eliminated in the first round, the fate they suffered at the most recent World Cup. Their next match is against Portugal, who look stronger now than when they won the tournament five years ago.
The average age of Germany’s starting 11 on Tuesday night was 28 years and 347 days, the highest for the country at a big tournament since 2000, according to statistics provider Opta.
Four world champions from 2014 were in the starting 11. With coach Joachim Löw departing this summer, Euro 2020 could be the end of a cycle for the Germans.