France vs. Germany preview: Euro 2016 semi-final

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We’re down to the last four at Euro 2016. France and Germany vie for a spot in the July 10 final at the Stade de France on Thursday. Here’s the preview and prediction for Thursday’s semi-final.

France vs. Germany

The heavyweight clash of the semifinals: The hosts against the World Champions at the incomparable Stade Velodrome in Marseille.

Germany arrives from their knock-down-drag-out quarterfinal duel with Italy a badly hobbled team. Mats Hummels is suspended, Mario Gomez is out injured, as is Sami Khedira, and captain Bastian Schweinsteiger – who can only play for a few minutes at a time these days – is on the shelf as well.

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All the absences mean that Jogi Low, who has been hit and miss tactically in big games, has plenty of reshuffling to do. Shkodran Mustafi should slide into central defense, but the absence of a true #9 will hurt against a vulnerable French defense.

The French finally hit their stride against Iceland in their quarterfinal, with goals pouring in from the likes of Giroud, Payet, and Griezmann. When they’re on, Didier Deschamps has the best attacking team in the tournament.

On that note, and not least because their defense remains shaky at best, France must try to play proactively. They don’t figure to dominate the ball as they’ve done in their first five matches at this tournament, but they can punish the Germans on the counter.

The question for Deschamps is whether to start with a destroyer in N’Golo Kante – the safer option – or play the front six that ripped apart Iceland. The Germans would be smart to inject some pace up top – possibly Andre Schurrle – to target France’s weakest link, slow-footed center back Adil Rami.

Psychology will play a part. France hasn’t beaten Germany in a major tournament in some 58 years; with the infamous meeting in the quarterfinal of the 1982 World Cup hanging over the canvas of a game that the hosts – regardless of their home advantage and array of goal-scoring talent – certainly feels it is an underdog in.

In the quarterfinals, though, Germany exercised similar demons – finally eliminating Italy from a major tournament. Now, in the semifinal, it’s France’s turn for a dose of revenge.

Prediction: France

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