Euro 2020: Germany and Hummels caught in the eye of Pogba's French storm

Sports Wednesday 16/June/2021 06:35 AM
By: DW
Euro 2020: Germany and Hummels caught in the eye of Pogba's French storm
Kai Havertz consoles Mats Hummels after Germany lost to France

Berlin: A game that boasted the attacking talents of Kylian Mbappe, Kai Havertz, Serge Gnabry, Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Müller, Karim Benzema and Leroy Sane was settled by a clumsy first half own goal from Mats Hummels — and a world class display from Paul Pogba.

After a cagey opening, France burst in to life when Pogba showed exquisite vision and execution to pick out the run of Bayern Munich's Lucas Hernandez with the outside of his boot. Hernandez drove low across the six yard box and Hummels, with Mbappe lurking, could only blast in to his own net after getting his feet in a tangle.

While Germany had a few brief spells of pressure, Hugo Lloris was never tested in the French goal and Kylian Mbappe threatened to wrap it up on the break, seeing a goal disallowed before being denied by Hummels' desperate lunge.

France were again denied the second in the dying minutes when Mbappe squared for Benzema to tap home, only to see the flag raised again. But the world champions had done enough. With European champions Portugal up next, Joachim Löw's goodbye is in danger of being significantly shorter than he would wish.

Kimmich out of position

Much of the talk pre-match had concerned the role of Joshua Kimmich, Germany's unofficial captain and feisty all-rounder, equally comfortable in central midfield or as a right wingback. In the end, it was the latter.

"He'll have more chances to get forward," Löw had explained, the plan being to pin down French left-back Hernandez. And Kimmich made his intentions clear as early as the seventh minute, when he was booked for an unnecessary foul on his Bayern teammate in a harmless position in the French half.

But he wasn't there when it mattered. When Pogba launched the move for the deciding goal with that wonderful pass with the outside of his foot, Kimmich was stranded in the center, Hernandez crossed and Hummels could only shin the ball past Manuel Neuer.

Germany punished by French 'individualists'

It had been coming. Ever since Kimmich's yellow card, France had laid their cards on the table.

"How do you intend to deal with Germany's forwards?" head coach Didier Deschamps had been asked in an interview in the build-up to the tournament. His slightly bemused response: "You should ask Joachim Löw how he wants to deal with ours."

And whether with neat combination play between Antoine Griezmann, Benjamin Pavard, and N'golo Kanté down the right, or the electric Kylian Mbappé cutting in from the left, they were proving their coach right.

"Going forward, the French are individualists, they pop up everywhere and anywhere and create chances with their individual qualities and creativity," Löw had said. But how Germany could have done with some of that themselves.

Löw has not ceased to emphasize the positive atmosphere and team spirit in the German camp, which Hummels also attested was much improved from the debacle in Russia in 2018. But you need more than good vibes to beat this French team.

Havertz was guilty of losing possession, Kroos was slow to move the ball forward and, without a recognized striker, the closest Germany came were headed half-chances from Hummels and Müller and a scuffed volley from Gnabry.

The plan to exploit France in behind the fullbacks wasn't working, and there was no sign of a plan B.

Leroy Sané and Timo Werner replaced Serge Gnabry and Kai Havertz with 15 minutes remaining – like for like changes, albeit with added pace and penetration.

The better option to close the gaping hole between Germany's midfield and attack would have been Leon Goretzka, but the Bayern Munich man wasn't fit enough to make the matchday squad.

French thunder and lightning

And all the while, the French threat on the counter-attack loomed large and omnipresent, with the imperious Pogba the thunder in midfield and the lightning bolt provided by Mbappe.

On the first occasion, Mbappe twisted and turned and danced through the German defense before curling past Neuer – but he'd been offside in the build-up.

When Pogba launched the next breakaway, Benzema overhit his ball to Mbappe, but the young Parisian ignited the turbos to race past Hummels, who recovered in the nick of time with a brilliant slide tackle.

Third time lucky? Pogba sent Mbappe flying again but he was marginally offside again, and Benzema's finish from his cross was correctly ruled out. But France had done enough.

"We knew that France are extremely good on the counterattack and we couldn't prevent everything. Mbappe is so fast, Benzema can hold it up, Griezmann drops deep," Löw told broadcaster ZDF at full-time.

"It was an incredibly intense game and we gave everything and fought till the end. One own goal decided the game but I can't criticize my team. We won a lot of tackles, but what we were missing was maybe the penetration in the final third. We didn't create enough."

One own goal indeed, but Löw will know that it didn't tell the story. Germany were caught in the eye of the French storm in Munich, and they didn't have the answers.