World champions Germany meet hosts France in enticing clash
MARSEILLE, France (AP) — The World Cup winners against the hosts, the resumption of an old rivalry, the "Marseillaise" sung loud in Marseille — France's semifinal against Germany makes for a mouthwatering semifinal on Thursday.
Germany goes into the game missing key players through injury or suspension, while France is so far untested against top-level opposition at this tournament.
Though politics and wartime history are certainly part of the France-Germany rivalry, there are plenty of football grudges too.
Few French fans could forgive the World Cup semifinal in 1982 when a physical West German team beat France 3-3 on penalties. German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher became a national hate figure in France after charging into France's Patrick Battiston, leaving him unconscious and with multiple injuries.
France has won five of eight meetings with Germany since German reunification in 1990 — including a 2-0 win in November — but those victories were all in friendlies. The French lost the one game when it really mattered, going down 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup. Indeed, France hasn't beaten the Germans at a major tournament since 1958.
Mats Hummels, the German goalscorer in 2014, misses Thursday's game in Marseille through suspension after picking up a second booking in the quarterfinal win over Italy. Germany must also face France without forward Mario Gomez and midfielder Sami Khedira, who are both injured. There are also doubts over the fitness of veteran midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.
By contrast, France coach Didier Deschamps has a fully fit squad. However, his team has so far avoided the other leading contenders at its home European Championship.
While Ireland and Iceland's fans entertained the French public, their teams didn't stretch France's players to the limit in its two knockout games to date. Conceding a goal against the Irish and two against Iceland is also unlikely to lift lingering concerns over the French defense. The hosts' toughest test so far came in the group stage, when they were held to a 0-0 draw by the solid if unadventurous Swiss.
France would do well to be cautious in the semifinal. The last time Germany faced the host nation in the semifinal of a major tournament, it was more a demolition than a victory.
While Germany's injury-depleted team may struggle to repeat its 7-1 crushing of Brazil at the 2014 World Cup, the world champions remain a big threat to French dreams of dominance at home.
A fired-up crowd in Marseille's Stade Velodrome will just drive Germany on, coach Joachim Loew said Monday.
"I don't know how many thousand fit, but the vast majority of fans will be behind France in Marseille, you'll have this energy," he said. "Super, when it's like this, no really, it's a motivation."