Les Bleus look to repeat 1984 Marseille success

French fansPhoto: Asif Burhan

French fans
Photo: Asif Burhan

Les Bleus look to repeat 1984 Marseille success

by Ed Pham

La Stade Velodrome: the site of 1984 Euro semifinal between France and Portugal, arguably one of the great matches of all time. With the score tied 1-1 going into extra time, France found themselves in a deficit, going into the second half of extra time.

They equalized early and had national hero Michel Platini find the game winner moments after for the eventual champs. Now thirty-two years later, the stadium hosts their national side again in the semifinals of the European Championships, this time with a new opponent: Germany.

France and Germany have played each other four times in the last four years, with each side winning twice. However, it was in 2014 where Germany won the match that mattered the most, a quarterfinal tie in the World Cup that resulted in a 1-0 win in a game that lacked a lot of tactical prowess and entertainment. In a recent press conference, Moussa Sissoko noted that game in Brazil stating that “they remembered that match and wanted revenge.”

After the ruthless display against Iceland on Sunday, L’Equipe posted the perfect headline: “Presque Parfait,” meaning “Almost Perfect.”

While the hosts had a nervous start, they quickly opened the floodgates to a multitude of goals, hitting Iceland for four in the first half alone and allowing them to rest easy in preparations for the tie against Germany. With Olivier Giroud (twice), Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet, and Antoine Griezmann hitting for goals that game, it showed how devastating Les Bleus could be on the attack. For a team that lacked finishing in the early stages of the tournament, it was the perfect build-up of confidence for their attacking parts.

Ssonset: France 5 : 2 Iceland

This largely has to do with Didier Deschamps’ “revelatory” move of Griezmann to a central position behind Giroud. Much like his role at Atletico Madrid, it’s given him more freedom to create and find ways to score goals for France. He’s had ten shots (five on target), five key passes, three goals, and two assists with this change in tactics in the knockout rounds. While it has been against the likes of the Republic of Ireland and Iceland, he’s come into the form that fans have seen him for his club and perfect timing.

However, two goals by the island nation prevented the truly perfect night on Sunday. France finally had given up their first goals of the tournament in open play. While they did look to rest up for the semifinals and prevent any injuries or any cautions, France cannot afford to give up such looks against Germany. Particularly as they continue to show signs of weakness on set pieces, this squad will need to show more teeth on the defense or be punished.

Even though Thomas Müller has yet to score, he has shown the upper hand against Laurent Koscielny in club action. France will need to be alert with runs from the midfield from Mesut Özil and Tony Kroos as well. If there was ever a time for a sound defensive performance for the host nation, this would be the game to do it.

The dilemma that Deschamps now faces is how will Les Bleus line up against Germany.

With the recent success of their 4-2-3-1 (or a modified 4-4-2 as some call it) and Germany’s injuries (Khedira, Schweinsteiger, and Höwedes) and suspensions (Hummels), does France go back to their standard 4-3-3 system? Playing in the current system would play into Germany’s strengths if the Germans run a 3-5-2 as they did against Italy.

However, is Deschamps confident enough in Griezmann and Giroud leading the front line that he would be willing to do that? And would Deschamps change something that’s been successful? Running their 4-3-3 may allow more pressure on the German back three and defensive midfield, as Paul Pogba could have a field day against either Emre Can, Toni Kroos, or Julian Weigl (if Schweinsteiger is ruled out). This would also allow N’Golo Kante to cover Özil, rather than either Blaise Matuidi or Pogba. The French manager’s selection on Thursday will be a true test of his managerial abilities.

Thursday’s match between France and Germany brings a lot of storylines. Much will be made of their 1982 World Cup semifinal best remembered for German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher’s assault on Patrick Battiston, often considered one of the worst tackles in international soccer history.

There will be a lot of questions as to what France does, from their defensive performance to whether or not they can replicate their attacking performance on Sunday to the lineup that they bring out against Germany.

Regardless of these questions, this French team will hope to replicate that magic that Platini and company had at the Stade Velodrome in 1984 and get into their third consecutive tournament final on home soil.


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