Friday, 8 July 2016
Euro 2016 semi final - France 2 - Germany 0...
Nohing has changed, everything has changed...
Is it just me or did something cosmically wierd happen at midnight on 1st January 2016? Within a few days we'd lost Lemmy, Bowie, Rickman... Terry Wogan...George Martin... Ronnie Corbett... Victoria Wood....Prince....just a few days ago, poor Caroline Aherne. A pretty shit year for deaths of the great and good, by any standard. Simultaneously, we in the UK have spent the first half of the year bracing ourselves for a possible exit from the European Union and will no doubt spend the rest of the year and beyond, regretting the reality of actually leaving. Isis, NATO troops massing in Poland, Sophie leaving Love Island...can it seriously get any worse? And now, to top it all, the reigning world champions and, in my view, the most entertaining German football side in a long time have been knocked out of Euro 2016 by a French side who barely seemed to get a kick of the ball in the whole 90 minutes. You could forgive any visiting Martians for wondering what kind of a wierd-arsed planet they'd landed on. Something in the water does not compute.
There was something plain wrong right from the start, the BBC for some reason honing in on the seemingly ubiquitous theme of sausages in common German football related epithets in their preview clip. Wierd. That alongside the always disconcerting apparition of Rio Ferdinand's mouth suggested that already things were not all they seemed to be. Stranger still, the panel all fancied France to win. [Gallic shrug] ??? Did they know something we didn't? Off to the anthems, hard not to recall that famous scene in Rick's Bar from Casablanca; the calm majesty of 'Deutcshland uber alles', stately and slightly chilling as ever, followed by 'The Marseillaise' pumped out here on home town soil with almost as much frenzied and slightly hysterical passion as in the film.
The game kicked off and it immediately looked as if we were in for exactly the kind of classic that both teams' form in the rest of the tournament had promised. The game seemed open and end to end, Griezmann carrying on the sort of form that he'd been showing from precisely 2 minutes after my observation during the game against the Republic of Ireland that he was a vastly over-rated and useless waste of space, scoring twice almost no sooner than the words had left my mouth. With further slackness completely in line with my journalistic standing, to-ing and fro-ing about the kitchen to dish up supper (Trompetti pasta with a plain tomato sauce and garlic bread) as I am, I miss the one genuine moment of quality the French produce in the whole 90, only catching the second half of a blazing Griezmann inspired move that involves an entire repertoire of feints, wriggles and gives and goes before the new French talisman shoots low, forcing the first (and only) real save he has to make in open play from Manuel Neuer (James Corden). It's an exciting opening passage and bodes well for the game ahead.
And then the Germans take complete control of the game. For the next 35 minutes, they pass and probe until someone, usually Mesut Ozil (Peter Lorre as Ugate in Casablanca - "aw, Meestah Reeek") slides in an impossibly cleverly angled pass for someone to either cross to no one in particular, scuff a shot in the general direction of a French defender or force a corner. On and on it goes, wave after wave... Ozil ("You're hoiting my oirm") to Draxler (Joey Essex) to Muller (Frank Ifield) to Schweinsteiger (Brendan from Strictly) to Boateng (Duke Ellington)...on and on they pass and move, pass and move, pass and move. The camera cuts to the watching German coach, a progressively drained looking Joachim Low (any male member of Blondie) as yet another exquisite move ends in yet another fumble by Muller or an equally exquisite, well-intentioned and algebraically implausible pass from Ozil ("You despise me, don't you...?")
The half seems destined to peter out ahead of what promises to be a rip-roaring second half of further sustained German domination leading to an equally inevitable German goal, probably in the 77 minute leaving far too little time for a tired and demoralised France to even think about equalising, let alone another 30 minutes of being played off the park in extra time and the sheer formality of losing on penalties, should the need arise. Then, having offered nothing else in the way of attack except for a plodding jog and equally unconvicing punt goalwards from Olivier Giroud (A Young and Dashing Captain Haddock), France somehow contrive to win a corner. It's floated over and seems to have come to nothing. The cannier French supporters at the opposite side of the ground have already begun to make their way towards the bar so as to beat the queues for a casually squirted 3/4 full plastic mug of tepid Stella Artois. But what's this? The referee marches towards Schweinsteiger and is brandishing a yellow card - was it something he said? Dissent? Another of those illegal lifts in the American Smooth? No, he's only gone and given away a penalty. It seems barely credible, but then the Germans have form already in the tournament, Boateng doing his jazz hands in the box had similarly gifted Italy an equaliser from the spot in the quarter final.
Griezmann (who else?) steps up and sends his penalty high and true in the opposite direction to the flailing Neuer. The camera surveys the German support (evidently none of them Arsenal fans) who, having seen their team completely dominate possession with an adventurous and stylish display somehow still go in trailing the French who've mustered barely two attacks. They stare blank and uncomprehending into the crazy chasm of chaos and uncertainty that's casually blown a gaping hole in their 21st century worldview. First Brexit, and now this. How, we telepathically intuit from their shocked and broken collective countenace, could we have been so much in control and now stand to lose everything? Half time: France 1 - Germany 0.
Back to the studio for some reassuring 'don't worry, the Germans always win, usually on penalties'-type banter from Lineker and co. In case that's not enough to soothe our frayed nerves, they re-run the highlights of the 1982 world cup semi final - the terrible beauty of Harold Schaumaker's wrecking ball challenge that left Patrick Battiston a crumpled wreck on the eighteen yard line; a subtle marker of German indomitability. The subtext: don't worry, the Germans always find a way.
The second half opens with a close up on a tragic Mesut Ozil. He's been yellow carded even before the game's had a chance to restart - possibly for carrying transit papers obtained by murdering German couriers in the Free French zone? There will be no way back now, you can see it in Mesut's face and the indignation rising up and visible in his cheeks. We're all sat back expecting Germany to once more click through the gears and regain the astonishingly fluent rhythm they'd established in the first half. But nothing's doing. The French, emboldened now, start to come out of their shells and when they're not giving the Germans stuff to think about themselves, they're good enough at disrupting the teutonic rhythm to introduce a degree of fraughtness to the German side that seemed inconceivable during their dominant period in the first forty minutes.
The Peronis start to kick in now and the horrible prospect of France reaching a tournament without having fired a shot in real anger brings the cumulative Brexit-inspired xenophobia and Little Englander mentality sharply to the surface. The English fans are right - they'd be speaking German if it wasn't for us. It's all a conspiracy, a last ditch effort to keep the fraying fabric of the coalition at the heart of the doomed European project together...Once more unto the breach, dear freunde...like daschunds in the slips....straining upon the start...the game's afoot... follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry 'God for Merkel, Deutschland, and Saint Gerd!'
As if in reproach for this Ukip-y display, France start to take the upper hand looking dangerous now everytime they break into the German half. Then it all goes Fawlty Towers in the German box. Sybil's on the blower to Audrey asking if she's staunched it yet and thus completely oblivious to the oncoming Pogba. Polly trips over the Major and hands the ball straight back to Pogba who dinks in a harmless looking cross, but Manuel collides with Basil while he's trying to fix a moose head to the cross bar and can only palm the ball right onto the boot of (who else?) Griezmann and before you can say "You started it, no vee didn't, yes you did you invaded Poland" it's 2-0 France. There's still time enough for Germany to make a game of it, but they don't really. They decide to go the whole Arsenal hog and spend far too much time trying to create a perfect opening when they'd be much better advised to lump it in the box and at least get one goal back quickly. Too late, they start creating half chances with the latter approach. But the game was lost just before half time, in another of those wierd and explicable moment of madness that seem to be defining this year.
France versus Portugal in a final on Sunday that surely won't be anything like as fitting a finale as this game promised to be. But then, going on current form it will Portugal 17- France 58 and President Hollande will do a striptease at half time.