More than 15,000 Germany fans led the latest Euro 2016 invasion of Marseille on Thursday ahead of their country’s key semi-final clash against tournament hosts France.
After Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal beat Wales 2-0 to seal their place in Sunday’s final, attention now turns to see which of the two tournament favourites can get to Stade de France.
Football fever rose as temperatures hit 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) in the Mediterranean city. But after the trauma of clashes between Russian and England fans earlier in the tournament, German and French fans packed bars and cafes in an atmosphere of calm.
Neither country has announced a team for the match, which starts at 1900 GMT, but Germany’s Joachim Loew did say that captain Bastian Schweinsteiger was fit to start the game.
“In a game like this, his experience is very valuable and, in any case, he will start,” Loew said Wednesday.
Amid mounting national expectations, French coach Didier Deschamps has kept his players under wraps.
Scandal hit the team before Euro 2016 when star Karim Benzema was excluded over an investigation into a sextape blackmail involving a teammate.
But with Antoine Griezmann the tournament’s leading scorer so far with four goals, France have improved with every match.
– Misers and hot shots –
The European Championship hosts will 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 Manuel Neuer, the most miserly ‘keeper in the tournament, and Atletico Madrid striker Griezmann as leading scorer could hold the key to their latest encounter however.
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 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. – Agence France-Presse