Just as everybody thought they would head into the break with a scoreless tie, the game changed. A hand ball and a lack of German striking options helped France end their 58 years of hurt, writes DW's Chuck Penfold.
Bastian Schweinsteiger was called for a hand ball inside his own area just seconds before the stroke of halftime, and the red hot Antoine Griezmann confidently stepped up and stroked the ball past Manuel Neuer and into the German net. That gave France the only goal they would need to advance to the final in St. Denis on Sunday. He would add another after a German defensive miscue midway through the second half, for a score line that may have flattered the French slightly. It's a pity that the decider came from a (deserved) penalty, instead of from open play.
Make no mistake, the French deserved to win, if for no other reason than that they found the target, while Germany were unable to score. Sure, they created chances, and even forced Hugo Lloris into a couple of fine saves, but in this tournament, this has been a team that has had major trouble scoring goals. And with goal poacher Mario Gomez out through injury, coach Joachim Löw could do little but hope that putting the onus on Thomas Müller to do so would be the tonic that would cure the usually prolific Bayern Munich attacker of his current scoring drought.
It didn't work, and neither did moving Emre Can so far forward that he almost looked like a second striker at times. The much-maligned Mario Götze, who came on for Can later in the game, was also ineffective - as he had been early in the tournament, when Löw preferred him in the role of a false 9 to Gomez as an authentic 9.
Lack of better options
Müller and Götze are fine players, but with them not firing on all cylinders, Löw was out of better choices when Gomez went down. How could this be? Are there so few prolific German strikers out there that there wasn't another alternative that Löw could have brought to France, just in case? Could Kevin Volland have been the solution? Probably not. Marco Reus would have been nice, had he been fit, but you can't blame Löw for injuries.
So is Germany suffering from a dearth of striking power (apart from Gomez and an in-form Müller)? A glance at the top five Bundesliga scorers from the last three seasons certainly makes this argument. In each of those seasons, there was but a single German in the top five. And among fit players, the name of no striker jumps out at you, who, had Löw brought him to France, would have been widely expected to make the difference. There were possibilities, yes. The omission of the young Julian Brandt from Leverkusen surprised many, while perhaps Leroy Sane merited a chance in the group stage. But neither would have been sure-fire fixes.
Not a lot wrong
The World Cup champions did a lot of things right in France this summer. They were the best team defensively, with Manuel Neuer having not conceded a goal from open play until Griezmann's second on Thursday. Apart from the Poland match, Germany created scoring chances and battled their way to the semifinal, only to fall against a host team boasting the tournament's top scorer and all the advantage a partisan home crowd could give them.
No, not a lot was wrong with this German team, bar an ill-timed hand ball and a French striker who was not about to miss from the spot.
So now, the French might say, the shoe is on the other foot. Two years after Germany would need nothing more than a Mats Hummels header to move on to the semifinals of the World Cup in Brazil, in a game in which Hummels was unable to play due to a yellow-card ban, the French have healed 58 years of hurt. Much was made in the French sporting press over the past week of the fact that France had not beaten Germany in a match that means something since the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.
Rest assured, should Germany meet France against in Russia in two years' time, some in the German press will be citing the need to avenge this July night. Personally, I would settle for a game as close and often entertaining as this battle in Marseille was. May the best team on the night win, hopefully with the decider coming from open play!