France, Germany set for Euro 2016 semi-final blockbuster


Marseille (AFP) – Captain Bastian Schweinsteiger will make his first start of Euro 2016 as Germany take on France in a semi-final battle of European superpowers on Thursday.

The two fancied teams will be playing for the right to play Portugal in Sunday’s final at the Stade de France after Cristiano Ronaldo’s men beat Wales 2-0.

More than 15,000 Germany fans flooded into Marseille for the match, packing bars and cafes in an atmosphere of calm after clashes between Russian and England fans earlier in the tournament.

Many cars in Marseille were decked out in French tricolour flags with children, their faces painted, wearing France caps.

“Day of glory,” trumpeted the front page of L’Equipe newspaper over a picture of the French team.

Neither side have announced their line-ups for the match, which starts at 1900 GMT, but Germany’s Joachim Loew said captain Bastian Schweinsteiger is fit to start after an injury scare. 

“In a game like this, his experience is very valuable and, in any case, he will start,” Loew said.

– Misers and hot shots –

The European Championship hosts will be looking to beat Germany, the World Cup holders, at a major tournament for the first time in 58 years.

Germany have triumphed in three World Cup encounters since then, the last in the 2014 quarter-finals. Their most famous meeting was in the 1982 semi-final when France’s Patrick Battiston had to be revived by medics on the pitch after a brutal clash with German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher. 

Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, the most miserly goalkeeper in the tournament, and Atletico Madrid striker Griezmann as leading scorer could hold the key to their latest encounter.

Griezmann scored two of his four goals in France’s impressive 5-2 quarter-final win over Iceland. 

Neuer has conceded only one goal in regulation time in five games — a spot-kick against Italy in the quarter-finals, a tie Germany eventually won on penalties.

“We need to score goals. This is a team that doesn’t concede a lot of goals,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.

“Everyone talks about their attack, but they know how to defend,” he added.

Loew is aware of the French threat.

“We are going to have to be compact and close down the space in defence,” he said.

“France are going to be the toughest opponents we have had in the tournament until now.”

Deschamps has no injury problems and welcomes back midfielder N’Golo Kante and defender Adil Rami to contend for places after both served suspensions against Iceland.

With many French fans looking back to the 1982 battle, Deschamps said: “We can’t change past history, but we’ve got our own page to write.”

Apart from the return of Schweinsteiger, Loew gave no other team details and he faces some tough choices.

Centre-back Mats Hummels picked up a yellow card and is suspended against France. Striker Mario Gomez and midfielder Sami Khedira picked up injuries which have ruled them out.

Loew also has a problem with Bayern man Thomas Mueller, a regular source of goals who has yet to score at the tournament.

But Mueller says that reaching the final and having a chance to add the Euro trophy to the World Cup they currently hold is all that matters.

“Reaching that goal is what drives me on. I haven’t had that many chances here and the ones I have missed were by a matter of centimetres.

“I’m not driving myself crazy about it,” he said.

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