“Revenge” is a word that has been on everyone’s lips in France since Didier Deschamps’ men won through to the last four of UEFA EURO 2016, the reason being that Germany now block their path to the final.
The Germans have become nothing less than a bogey team for Les Bleus, whose last major-finals win against them came at the 1958 FIFA World Cup Sweden™, a fact of life that Olivier Giroud discussed at a press conference on Tuesday. “If we’re going to win the EUROs, we need to reverse that trend,” he said. “I don’t like the word ‘revenge’, though. We want to beat them because they are the best in the world.”
In becoming world champions at Brazil 2014, Germany beat the French in the quarter-finals, courtesy of Mats Hummels’ powerful 13th-minute header. It was a goal that stirred up painful memories of Maxime Bossis and Didier Six’s penalty shoot-out misses in the semi-final at Spain 1982, and the strikes by Andreas Brehme and Rudi Voller that settled another semi-final in Germany’s favour in Mexico four years later.
“Germany have always done well in big competitions, and often at our expense,” France right-back Bacary Sagna told FIFA.com, in contemplating the task now awaiting the hosts. “They’re the reigning world champions, and we suffered a bitter defeat to them in 2014. It’s time for us to beat them.”
The timing certainly seems to be right, firstly because France are at home and are never as strong as when playing in front of their own fans, as their triumphs at EURO 1984 and the 1998 World Cup showed. Then there is the fact that their upcoming opponents look slightly more vulnerable now that Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez are out with injury and Hummels is suspended. A further cause for French optimism is the positive energy around the team, which is fuelling their desire to set the record straight.
That desire is felt by the whole team. After securing two late wins and a goalless draw in the group phase and then having to come from behind to beat Republic of Ireland in the last 16, the hosts shrugged off any suggestions they could not win big when they dismantled Iceland in the quarters. Four goals to the good at half-time, they eventually eased to 5-2 win.
Summing up their last-eight performance, Sagna said: “We wanted to reassure ourselves and the fans, and I think we did it in style. We totally dominated the game in the first half, scoring four goals and not conceding. That got the job done, and it was very important for us to go out and start the game like that.”
Records have also been set straight on a personal level. After coming in for some criticism from the French media for failing to hit their usual form, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba have answered the doubters on the pitch, with the former scoring his fourth goal of the tournament against Iceland, and the Juventus man his first.
Giroud was another player to redeem himself against the Icelanders. Booed by his own fans at a EURO 2016 warm-up match against Cameroon in Nantes, the Arsenal striker earned a standing ovation when he was substituted after his two-goal display on Sunday. “It’s always nice to get an ovation, though there was never any question of trying to settle an old score,” he told the assembled press. “I think I’ve got the right attitude on the pitch. That’s what counts, and I’ll continue to do all I can for the team.”
No less impressive at the back, Sagna is another player who has felt the wrath of the critics in the past, having previously been singled out for his inaccurate crossing. “I know I get a lot of criticism for my attacking game, and I’m going to try and give a lot more,” he said just before the tournament got under way. “I’ve become used to getting stick, though. That’s the way it is. I know that and I’m working on my crossing.”
That work seems to be paying off. His pinpoint centres for Giroud in the warm-up match against Scotland and for Griezmann against the Irish in the last 16 almost doubled his tally of assists with the national team, which now stands at five in 61 games. Nor did they go unnoticed by appreciative France fans.
“It’s essential in a competition like this to keep on progressing and to keep getting stronger. You always have to try and improve on your previous performance,” said Sagna, before adding: “Some criticism is justified and can help you develop.”
Having answered the doubters on the pitch, the time has now come for France to end an old hoodoo.