MARSEILLE: Euro 2016’s most miserly goalkeeper Manuel Neuer must keep out the tournament’s top scorer Antoine Griezmann in a landmark semi-final clash between Germany and France on Thursday.
The prize from the Marseille battle in front of 65,000 fans will be a final against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in Paris on Sunday.
But the European Championship hosts will also be looking to beat Germany, the World Cup holders, in 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 Neuer and Atletico Madrid striker Griezmann could hold the key to their latest encounter however.
Griezmann has scored four times as France have improved with each game at Euro 2016. Two of his goals came in a comprehensive 5-2 win over Iceland in the quarter-finals last weekend at the Stade de France.
– ‘Schweini’ back –
Neuer has conceded only one goal in regulation time in five games — 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 French coach Didier Deschamps.
“Everyone talks about their attack, but they know how to defend,” he added.
German coach Joachim Loew is aware of the 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.”
German captain Bastian Schweinsteiger will start in Marseille after recovering from a knee ligament strain suffered against Italy.
“In a game like this, his experience is very valuable and, in any case, he will start,” Loew said on Wednesday, without giving any other team details. And the penalty shoot-out win left him with 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.