A Mats Hummels own goal proved to be enough for France to start Euro 2020 with three points and a 1-0 win over Germany in Munich.
Didier Deschamps' world champions France had two goals disallowed in a game where neither side showed quite the cutting edge that had been expected of them in the biggest game so far at the European Championships.
In a first half light on quality, Paul Pogba provided the game's telling moment, a brilliant cross-field pass with the outside of his boot that Lucas Hernandez volleyed across goal for Hummels to turn into his own net. It was the only real chance that France created in the first half, though Germany were not all that more incisive, with several of the best chances they made throughout the match wasted by Serge Gnabry.
Adrien Rabiot hit the post early in the second half but as the match wore on, Germany's passive possession at least offered them a foothold in the contest. French breaks, however, still seemed more likely to lead to a goal, particularly when they were led by Kylian Mbappe. The Paris Saint-Germain striker had the ball in the net in the 66th minute only for a brilliant curling effort with his right foot to be ruled out for an offside.
Mbappe was also convinced he had won a penalty late on when he burst away from Hummels in a foot race that looked rather like a tractor against a fighter jet, but the veteran German just about managed to get a foot on the ball to deny his opponent. Another tight decision went Germany's way late on when Mbappe was adjudged to have slipped slightly offside in the build-up to a move that ended with him squaring the ball for Karim Benzema to score.
Still, Germany could not make the most of those lifelines, Leroy Sane smacking a late free kick high and wide and Toni Kroos miscuing a corner in a frustrating end for the hosts, who face a challenging clash with Portugal on Saturday as they battle to get on the board at Euro 2020.
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France midfield looks unbeatable
Didier Deschamps' side were not all that remarkable in the first half, at least not based on what one might reasonably expect from the 11 outstanding players who took to the field at the Allianz Arena wearing blue. Yet they do not need to be when they have a midfield that can create something from nothing at one end and stop everything at the other.
In this somewhat underwhelming start to the game of the tournament so far, it was Pogba who lit the stage up. With Rabiot on hand to do some of the shuttling and the world's best midfielder alongside him, Pogba was the man to add sparkle to the contest. He glittered.
The backheels, the feints, the quick change of direction. It was effective but it was elegant. This game needed the latter as much as the former. Only Pogba could see the pass he delivered in the build-up to the opener. Yes, the German midfield should not have left him in space, but to use that to ping a ball with his toe, somehow getting the ball to slow down off the turf when logic would dictate it should fizz forward, was something Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan could not have seen coming. Hernandez's volley across goal was so firmly struck that there was nothing Hummels could do but turn the ball into the net.
Perhaps the only player to outshine Pogba in the first half was N'Golo Kante, who picked up right where he left off in the Champions League final. He covered every blade of grass in that game and in this; it was not an anchoring performance but instead one where he was liberated to win the ball back wherever possible, stealing possession right in the German half midway through the first period. Only one player ran more than the 5.6 kilometers Kante covered in the first half. Curiously, it was his Chelsea teammate Kai Havertz.
Meanwhile, the contrast could not have been any sharper with the German engine room, which was shorn of its best midfielder as Joshua Kimmich was shunted out to right wing back where he picked up an early yellow card trying to quell Kylian Mbappe. All Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan could do was watch Pogba breeze past them.
It is notable that, Kante aside, this France side is not really pressing, simply allowing teams to pass the ball around them. With he and Pogba shielding a defense similarly reinforced with quality while doing so much more in possession, it is easy to see how France can simply grind their way deep into this tournament, conceding few while resting assured that the sheer quality they have in advanced areas will get them goals.
Germany must find cutting edge
There are certainly issues for Joachim Low to address as he bids for success in his final international tournament. It took nigh on an hour for the wing backs to get into the game, Robin Gosens a shadow of his Atalanta self before that. Havertz seemed ill at ease as an inside forward in a 3-4-3, having spent the past few months playing centrally for Chelsea. The midfield of Kroos and Gundogan looks too slow against the top sides and there was a real lack of creativity in central areas.
In those facets, you could see why there is not the usual optimism around Germany's hopes heading into a major tournament. Indeed, it is not considered a fringe view to suggest that Low's reign might end with his team failing to reach a knockout stage that 16 of 24 teams will qualify for.
However, it was Germany that dominated possession, that had the most attempts on goal and that might have won this if Gnabry was his usually incisive self in the penalty area. Three tempting chances came his way, one in the first half that he poked wide and two in the space of as many minutes around the hour-mark. Seeing a forward of his quality utterly shank a shot so thoroughly feels incomprehensible. It is fair to assume that it will not happen all that often again.
He was not the only one whose technique let him down late on. Sane's touch was heavy or non-existent. Substitutes Kevin Volland and Timo Werner both misplaced easy passes. That might be all that needs to change for Germany, that these eminently capable footballers just need to get the final ball right. It ought not to be beyond them.
In other aspects of the game, that progress was apparent. The Germany side that looked unable to string passing moves together early on were far more at ease controlling possession as the game wore on and were not really tested in the second period, bar one dart from Rabiot and the moment when an offside Mbappe put the ball in the net. This was likely the toughest test they faced at the Euros and they at least looked France's equal for 85 minutes. They may yet need a point against Portugal to ensure that they do not need to beat Hungary by a cricket score to qualify for the knockout stages as a third-placed finisher, but on tonight's evidence they should not be discounted if they can develop as the tournament wears on.