MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Thursday night’s Euro 2016 semi-final between Germany and Italy.
Germany v France | Thursday 20.00 | BBC1
Reigning world champions Germany take on tournament hosts France in a fascinating semi-final Euro 2016 clash on Thursday night from Marseille.
These teams met two years ago in Brazil at the quarter-final stage of the World Cup and there wasn’t much to separate the sides that day as a Mats Hummels header was enough to decide matters in Germany’s favour.
Die Mannschaft also hold happy memories from their last clash with a host nation – destroying Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final of 2014 – but have been quoted as 38/19 (888) outsiders to progress to the final with a win in 90 minutes.
France have tended to dominate the head-to-head record between these countries; winning six of nine meetings since 1990 and Les Blues can be backed at 9/5 (Bet365) to continue their positive run of results with victory here.
Germany reached the semi-finals for the sixth successive major tournament after winning a thrilling penalty shootout against Italy in Bordeaux.
Joachim Low's troops looked on course for victory in normal time – against a country they had never beaten at a major tournament – when Mesut Ozil rounded off a slick build-up with Mario Gomez and Jonas Hector to score at the near post in the 65th minute.
Italy did not flinch but were grateful for a moment of madness from Die Mannschaft defender Jerome Boateng when he needlessly handled, allowing Leonardo Bonucci to convert a penalty with 12 minutes left.
Germany missed more penalties in one shootout than in their history – three – but were once again the winners on penalties. It means Die Mannschaft are still unbeaten at spot-kicks since the 1976 final and now boast a wonderful W14-D3-L1 record in major tournament matches.
Bonucci’s penalty remains the only goal the world champions have leaked but Low will be without the services of Hummels here, while Mario Gomez picked up a tournament ending injury and both Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger are rated as doubtful.
Gomez’s absence leaves the Germans without an out-and-out striker, forcing the head coach into a tactical shift and they’ve so far struggled offensively in this tournament when deploying a ‘false 9’ despite striking in all but two of their last 17 matches at the European Championships.
Meanwhile, France scored five to bring a brutal end to the Iceland fairytale in their quarter-final contest. There was almost a sense of disbelief around the Stade de France at the break as the host nation walked off with a 4-0 advantage that settled early French nerves and put their side in control.
Didier Deschamps' side had only conceded twice in the tournament before meeting Iceland – both penalties – but they had not scored in the opening half of a match and only really shown in flashes that they can reproduce on the pitch the ability they appear to have on paper.
But even though Les Blues were very comfortable winners, it was far from a flawless performance. Iceland created several decent chances in addition to their two goals.
The hosts have now W15-D2-L0 in major tournament matches on home soil and are in the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time since the 2006 World Cup. Les Blues are also the top scoring side with 11 goals in five games and scored two or more goals in all but one of their last 13 matches on home turf.
France have won each of the last two tournaments that they have contested on home turf – the European Championships in 1984 and the 1998 World Cup but will face a much sterner task here than previous opponents Iceland, Ireland, Romania, Albania and Switzerland.
Question marks remain over how Deschamps will set his side up. The standard 4-3-3 gives their unconvincing defence greater protection but the 4-2-3-1 formation has seen Les Blues score seven times in their last 135 minutes, and brought out the best in four-goal tournament top scorer Antoine Griezmann.
Either way, France's fragile back four continues to concern and should allow the Germans opportunities in what has the potential to be a rip-snorting encounter.
Eight of 16 (50%) European Championship semi-finals since 1984 have featured Over 2.5 Goals and although eight of Germany’s last 10 tournament matches have had fewer than three goals, with six featuring fewer than two, I’d still want a pro goals bet onside.
Both Teams To Score appears a strong starting point at 11/10 (William Hill) taking into account the two nations’ excellent records in front of goal, as well as their backline issues, and I’ll also have an interest in the 11/2 (Boylesports) on the 1-1 correct score.
This looks sure to be a tight contest between two evenly matched teams. Six of the last 10 European Championship semi-finals have gone to at least extra-time so keeping the stalemate onside is essential with penalties potentially proving decisive at the Stade Velodrome.
Therefore, I’ll back either team to win on penalties and either team to win in extra-time at 7/2 and 6/1 with SkyBet also.
Germany v France – Both Teams To Score (11/10 William Hill)
Germany v France – 1-1 correct score (11/2 Boylesports)
Germany v France – Either team to win in extra-time (6/1 SkyBet)
Germany v France – Either team to win on penalties (7/2 SkyBet)