Few coaches have received quite as much scrutiny as Joachim Low in the elongated run-up to Euro 2020.

Castigated after Germany's stunning group-stage exit at the 2018 World Cup, Low kept his job on the proviso of him starting a new phase for Die Mannschaft, with many of the old guard who helped inspire them to glory four years earlier in Brazil cast aside and their next generation of stars pushed to the fore.

Transitions, though, are rarely straightforward and Germany's bumps on the road to the European Championship were severe. They would have been relegated from League A of the Nations League if not for a restructuring following the inaugural edition and a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain in the same competition last November prompted an inquest that eventually led to his March decision to step down after the Euros.

A World Cup qualifying defeat to North Macedonia likely influenced Low's call to end the exiles of Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels for the Euros but, after the latter put through his own net in Germany's 1-0 loss to France in their opening Group F fixture and Cristiano Ronaldo then put Portugal ahead in Munich on Saturday, the coach would have been forgiven for wondering if this was just simply one tournament cycle too far.

Yet that dark moment amid the late evening sunshine at the Allianz Arena quickly gave way to belated vindication for Low, whose team rose to the occasion to claim a superb 4-2 victory in the game of the tournament so far.

Staring the prospect of taking no points from two games in the face, it was not Muller who turned the tide in Germany's favour but a member of that new generation they look set to rely on for years to come under Hansi Flick.

Robin Gosens won only his ninth cap for Germany against Fernando Santos' men, but his performance was that of a player vastly more experienced on this stage.

Schooled in the art of expansive attacking football through playing for a relentless Atalanta side that led Serie A with 90 goals in 2020-21, Gosens ruthlessly made the most of the inexplicable freedom given to him by Portugal right-back Nelson Semedo.

 

Gosens exuded confidence in the 35th minute as he hit a first-time ball across goal after Joshua Kimmich switched the play. Ruben Dias, under pressure from the unwelcome sight of Champions League final hero Kai Havertz, inadvertently levelled matters. Four minutes later, Raphael Guerreiro, who benefited from a fortunate deflection in Portugal's opening 3-0 win over Hungary, followed Dias in bundling into his own net from a Kimmich pull-back after Gosens had cut the ball back for Muller to cross.

There was no doubt Havertz had the decisive touch after Gosens put the ball on a platter for the Chelsea playmaker to make it 3-1 six minutes into the second half. A remarkable showing was then capped by Gosens with a firm close-range header from another Kimmich delivery.

Portugal pulled a goal back through Diogo Jota and Renato Sanches rattled the frame of the goal with a long-range effort, but a team that appeared poised to secure a place in the last 16 must now recover from becoming the first defending champion to concede four times in a game. It was the second time Portugal have let in four in a major tournament, having also done so against Germany in 2014.

Few would have envisioned Gosens having a hand in every goal but, with his influence and Havertz becoming Germany's youngest goalscorer at the Euros at 22 years and eight days old, this was Low's 2018 vision coming to fruition.

It may not have been exactly how he pictured it, Muller playing two key passes and Real Madrid's Toni Kroos, another old hand, heavily involved. But through that blend of youth and experience, Germany's hopes of a successful swansong for Low have life going into the final group game with a surprisingly obdurate Hungary.

On the evidence of their 1-1 draw with world champions France, Gosens and Co. may need to work harder to break down Hungary than they did Portugal.

For the 'Group of Death' to deliver, Germany needed to put the trials and tribulations that followed their no-show in Russia behind them. They did so emphatically against the unusually fragile defending champions and, heading into the final matchday, who wins Group F is anyone's guess. 

Germany benefited from two own goals as they came from behind to seal a thumping 4-2 win over Portugal in Euro 2020 Group F on Saturday. 

Cristiano Ronaldo had put holders Portugal ahead early on with a strike that took him level with Miroslav Klose as the European player to have scored the most combined goals (19) across the World Cup and European Championship. 

Joachim Low's side stormed back before half-time, however, courtesy of two own goals in the space of four minutes from Ruben Dias and Raphael Guerreiro. 

The 2014 world champions wrapped up an emphatic first victory of the tournament in the second half thanks to strikes from Kai Havertz and the impressive Robin Gosens, with Diogo Jota pulling one back for Fernando Santos' men.  

Left-back Gosens thought he had handed Germany a fifth-minute lead but his acrobatic effort at the back post was ruled out for offside against Serge Gnabry.

Despite Germany's dominant start it was Portugal who struck first, Ronaldo tapping home from close range in the 15th minute following a flowing counter-attacking move involving Bernardo Silva and Jota. 

Germany pulled level 10 minutes before half-time, though, when Dias diverted Gosens' mis-hit volley past Rui Patricio from just outside the six-yard box. 

Things got even better for Joachim Low's side four minutes later when Guerreiro turned into his own net from close range after Joshua Kimmich had pulled the ball back across the face of goal.

They extended their lead further six minutes after the interval, Havertz turning in Gosens' cross from close range. 

Gosens then added his name to the scoresheet on the hour mark, leaping highest at the back post to head home Kimmich's cross from the right. 

Liverpool striker Jota gave Portugal hope of pulling off a memorable comeback when he fired home from Ronaldo's pull-back in the 67th minute, but Germany held on to inflict just a third defeat in their last 31 matches for Portugal. who hit the post late on through Renato Sanches.

When Cristiano Ronaldo limped out of the Euro 2016 final, Portugal had to bide their time and turn towards an unlikely hero.

Eder, a flop in the Premier League with Swansea City who had been sent out on loan to Lille, enjoyed the most memorable moment of his time in France – and, indeed, his career – when he drove home a brilliant winner to down the hosts 1-0 in extra time at the Stade de France.

It felt like an entirely fitting way for Fernando Santos' team to win a tournament they slogged their way through.

Quickfire goals from Ronaldo and Nani early in the second half of a 2-0 semi-final win over Wales accounted for Portugal's only victory inside 90 minutes.

There were three draws during the group stage, including a 0-0 scoreline remaining intact when their talisman missed a penalty against Austria. The last-16 encounter with Croatia also reached full-time goalless before Ricardo Quaresma struck during the additional period.  

 

Quaresma and Nani provided dutiful support as their careers at the top level ticked down, but the cupboard was fairly bare for Santos once injury struck during the first half in Paris and Ronaldo was reduced to barking encouragement and instructions from the touchline.

Should a similar fate befall Portugal's all-time leading scorer this time around, the replacement goal threat would not be so obscure.

In Andre Silva, there is a natural stand-in at centre-forward, buoyed by 28 goals in 32 Bundesliga outings for Eintracht Frankfurt this season.

The burden could also be shouldered by Manchester United star Bruno Fernandes, an ideal candidate for penalty duties, while Diogo Jota's threat would remain.

Let's not forget that Bernardo Silva played a decent amount of Manchester City's triumphant Premier League title campaign and run to the Champions League final as a false nine, while Joao Felix remains an outstanding talent despite not yet justifying his €126million transfer fee to Atletico Madrid.

None of that quintet were involved at Euro 2016.

 

In short, Santos now has a squad overflowing with attacking firepower, having masterminded a route to glory when such options were far more scarce – save for one ludicrously prolific exception – five years ago.

However, as they prepare to face Germany, they remain a target for some of the criticism that came France's way after their opening 1-0 win in Munich.

Like Didier Deschamps, Santos has been accused of lacking imagination, providing a solid base for his attacking creatives and not much else.

"We are different from France. Let's see what Germany does and we'll try to control Germany too. One thing's for certain, we have to have a ball," Santos told reporters on Friday, insisting his team would look to take the initiative.

"We are not going to defend man to man. We're going to maintain our defensive pattern to be able to have the ball, as we did against Hungary, whom we forced to run."

 

The Hungary game was goalless until the 84th minute, as Ronaldo bagged a brace and superior quality – along with all that enforced running – eventually told in a 3-0 win.

But, with two heavyweight encounters to come before the end of the group stage, the question remains over whether Santos can make his team of winners a team people love to see win.

In the period from the end of the Euro 2012 up until their trudging triumph in 2016, per game Portugal averaged 1.6 goals form 17.2 shots and 5.9 on target at a shot conversion rate of 9.5 per cent.

Since Euro 2016, all of those numbers are up. They average 2.3 goals per game, 18.1 shots and 6.6 on target, converting 12.7 per cent. Their passing accuracy has improved from 83.2 per cent to 86 per cent, while an average of 172.9 passes ending in the final third in every match – up from 145.7 – also suggests a more progressive approach.

Far from waiting around for things to happen, Portugal imposed themselves against Hungary and a partisan Budapest crowd, enjoying 70 per cent possession and making 19 high turnovers – ranking them third overall in the tournament for teams winning the ball back 40 metres from the opposition goal, despite being one of sixes sides to have only played once so far.

 

For context, Santos' men made 27 high turnovers over the course of their six matches in France five years ago.

Ronaldo is reaping the benefit of this increased output of the attacking unit around him. Six of his nine international hat-tricks have come since lifting the European Championship.

If Portugal and the affable curmudgeon Santos are to mimic their neighbours Spain, who went back-to-back in 2008 and 2012, they might just capture hearts and minds along with winners' medals this time around.

Joachim Low wants Germany to show Cristiano Ronaldo they have the kind of bottle that he and Portugal cannot handle in Saturday's crunch Euro 2020 clash.

Head coach Low has told his team to "take more risks" and be brave as Germany bid to bounce back from their opening 1-0 defeat to France in Group F.

The Munich tussle follows several days when Ronaldo has faced scrutiny for moving two Coca-Cola bottles that were positioned on a news conference stage, and appearing to declare he preferred water to the tournament sponsor's product.

"Cristiano can do more than put away Coca-Cola bottles, he has more qualities," said Low on Friday evening, as he faced questions on how Germany would handle the Portuguese superstar.

That quip came amid a full assessment of Portugal's threat, but Low was more eager to talk about his own team's potential, feeling they have more to give than they showed against France.

He said that result left an "unfortunate and bitter" feeling, and added: "It's no secret we didn't create enough."

Low, who will step down after this tournament, hopes to see "more attacking power", saying Germany "need to be more intense, more effective".

"I think every player understood in attack we need to react in a different way. If we are in the final third, we need to stay there. [Against France] we always played backwards going out of the final third," Low said.

"We tried to be secure, not intense enough, but we need this dynamic in attack, especially in the final third.

"We need to take more risks, occupy spaces better, not go out of these spaces, and be more effective. We missed a number of occasions and options to do better [in the France game] and I'm sure we will do better tomorrow."

Portugal began with a 3-0 win over Hungary, though they were flattered by that margin, with the match having been goalless going into the final 10 minutes.

Ronaldo scored twice, his first a penalty, after Raphael Guerreiro broke the deadlock.

"It's not a one-man show, that's clear," Low said of Portugal.

"Portugal have been at the top since four to five years. With winning the Euro title [in 2016] they grew together, they're a great team.

"Is it a one-man show? It was before... Cristiano Ronaldo the superstar of the Portuguese team, he was 'the man', but this has changed. They have more players of top quality: [Bernardo] Silva, [Bruno] Fernandes, Joao Felix, Jota and many more and they are involved in attack as much as Cristiano is."

Germany would be in great danger of elimination should they lose, and going out in the group stage of his final tournament would hardly be a fitting way to sign off for World Cup winner Low.

"With the pressure we can deal with it, the players can deal with it," Low said. "We need a positive result and we want to show a good performance, but the pressure won't hinder us."

Portugal's last victory against Germany was in the group stages of Euro 2000 – a 3-0 win, courtesy of a Sergio Conceicao hat-trick.

Since then, Germany have won their four meetings with Portugal, all at major tournaments (the World Cups in 2006 and 2014 and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships).

But Low said: "All that's important is tomorrow night, 90 minutes against Portugal, and not what our history is against Portugal or France. This doesn't help if you know about that."

Fernando Santos is well aware of the threats possessed by Germany but insists Portugal will not go into Saturday's clash just looking to negate their opponents' strengths.

Portugal began their Euro 2020 defence with a 3-0 win over Hungary on Tuesday though it arguably was not as clear-cut as the scoreline suggested, with all three goals coming in the final 10 minutes - a European Championship first.

Nevertheless, it was a vital late flurry given matches against Germany and France await in Group F, their meeting with Die Mannschaft on Saturday practically a must-win for Joachim Low's men after their 1-0 defeat to Les Bleus.

France's set-up against the Germans seemed to raise eyebrows due to the level of their pragmatism – their average starting position of 32.8 metres from their own goal is the second-lowest at the tournament so far, highlighting how Didier Deschamps' men looked to absorb pressure.

 

Similarly, France showed very little willingness to press, particularly in advanced areas. On average they allowed Germany 55 passes before initiating a defensive action outside of their own defensive third, 22.7 more than any other team, which shows just how extreme Les Blues' counterattacking approach was.

France restricted Germany to just one shot on target, though it seems Portugal will not be looking to implement similar tactics.

"Portugal and Germany are two very strong teams," Santos told reporters on Friday. "Just count the number of German players who were in the Champions League final.

"Germany really wants to have the ball, to be a steamroller and push the opponent back. Afterwards, they attack with depth, but from closer [to goal] rather than in counterattacks.

 

"But they will also have to adapt to us. We are different from France. Let's see what Germany does and we'll try to control Germany too. One thing's for certain, we have to have a ball.

"We are not going to defend man to man. We're going to maintain our defensive pattern to be able to have the ball, as we did against Hungary, whom we forced to run.

"I don't know what Joachim [Low] is going to do. Germany has been oscillating between the two ways of playing [back three and back four].

"He has lined up with four in defence, where one of them was [Emre] Can and three in midfield, and more recently he has gone back to three at the back, with two in midfield and three forwards.

"If we pay attention, the game against France already showed nuances, with [Joshua] Kimmich more in midfield and [Matthias] Ginter on the right in the second half. Our players know this, they have already been warned about it."

 

Ruben Dias says Portugal are not getting carried away after making a winning start.

"We're up against a high-level team, one of the best at the European Championship," he said. "Although we started the Euros very well, we need to keep our feet on the ground, take what there is to take out, but also understand that we have to be better [than against Hungary] to win this game."

Cristiano Ronaldo must break new ground when Portugal face Germany at Euro 2020 if his quest for a new world record for international goals is to continue.

The Juventus star struck twice late on to help his side to a 3-0 victory over Hungary in their opening Group F match and become the leading scorer in European Championship finals history with 11 in 22 appearances.

Ronaldo is one goal short of matching Miroslav Klose (19) for the most goals by a European player at the Euros and World Cup combined, while an altogether grander record is now within his sights: he is only three adrift of Iran great Ali Daei's tally of 109, the most scored by any international men's player.

However, history is for once not on Ronaldo's side when it comes to facing Germany, who lost 1-0 to France in their opening match in Munich.

He has played four times against them – 360 minutes in total – and attempted 23 shots in those matches, but Ronaldo has never scored against Joachim Low's men. Only against France (six) has he played more international games without finding the net.

Former striker Nuno Gomes does not appear worried that Ronaldo's barren run will continue at the Allianz Arena, where a Portugal win would secure their place in the knockout phase and could leave Germany unable to finish in the top two should France avoid defeat to Hungary.

"Cristiano already has us believing that, for him, nothing is impossible," Gomes wrote via UEFA. "He is highly motivated and we can expect him to give his all.

"He may have lost some pace and explosiveness but has gained a flair for different kinds of goals. His positioning is very important and he's been in the right place at the right time, something that is important for a striker. It's hard to find the words to describe what he has done."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Portugal – Bruno Fernandes

Germany controlled possession well against France but looked susceptible to almost every counter-attack with the pace of Kylian Mbappe and passing of Paul Pogba.

Bruno Fernandes, who created a game-high three chances against Hungary, is Manchester United's architect when it comes to releasing forwards on the break and could be the main threat to the German defence if the holders do indeed adopt a counter-punching style.

Germany – Joshua Kimmich

The loss to France highlighted the main concerns around Low's 3-4-3 system: while it gives Germany greater nominal control on the game, it moves Kimmich away from an influential midfield role to that of a wing-back reliant on optimistic crosses (he attempted seven in the opening game).

Should Low return to a 4-3-3, it would allow Kimmich to move back into a central trio alongside Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan and bring an extra creative dimension to the middle.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be the fifth meeting between Portugal and Germany at the European Championship; only Italy and Spain have faced each other on more occasions in the tournament (six). It will also be the sixth encounter between the two teams at major tournaments since Euro 2000 (four at the Euros, two at the World Cup), the most between two European nations over that period.
- The past five matches between Portugal and Germany have produced 17 goals, an average of 3.4 per match. Four of those five games have witnessed three or more goals.
- Portugal have lost just two of their past 30 matches in all competitions (W19 D9), scoring 67 goals and conceding just 19 times across these games. Having won 4-0 against Israel and 3-0 against Hungary in their previous two matches, they are looking to win three games in a row without conceding for the first time since November 2017 (four in a row).
- Germany have suffered three defeats in their past four group matches at major tournaments (Euros and World Cup), as many as in their previous 24 group stage games (W16 D5). They have not suffered consecutive defeats in the group stage at a major tournament since losing to England and Portugal at Euro 2000.
- Germany midfielder Toni Kroos completed exactly 100 passes against France. In the past three tournaments (Euro 2016, World Cup 2018, Euro 2020), there have been six instances of a Germany player completing 100 or more passes in a game and all six have been by Kroos.

UEFA is satisfied with the France medical staff's assessment that Benjamin Pavard did not lose consciousness in Tuesday's Euro 2020 clash with Germany.

Pavard claimed after Les Blues' 1-0 Euro 2020 victory over Germany that he "felt a little knocked out for 10 to 15 seconds" following a collision with Robin Gosens.

The right-back received treatment for several minutes at the Allianz Arena and was eventually allowed to continue playing.

Pavard's return to the pitch and subsequent comments drew criticism from world players' union FIFPro, who demanded answers from UEFA for failing to follow the "concussion charter".

The charter was signed by all 24 teams at Euro 2020 – a commitment to taking a series of measures to improve the care of players and includes neurological baseline testing and access to in-match television replays for team doctors.

However, UEFA released a statement on Thursday stating they are happy the France medical team did not breach a concussion protocol by allowing Pavard to play on.

"According to the reports that we received from the team doctor, it seems that a loss of consciousness did not occur," the statement read. 

"The team doctor did not find any reason to suspect a concussion either on the pitch or after thorough assessment made by a renowned specialist in this field in later follow-up.

"The player will nevertheless continue to be closely monitored over the coming days."

The statement added: "All 24 teams committed to follow the recommendations of the UEFA Concussion Charter before the start of the tournament and the responsibility for decision-making remains with the team doctor.

"If the team doctor has any doubts about unconsciousness or signs of concussion, he should remove the player from the field. 

"The team doctor is the only person who can take the decision for the player to stay on the pitch or be substituted. The team doctor's decision must always be respected, even if the player or the coach believes that the player is fit to continue."

France's 1-0 victory in Munich, sealed through Mats Hummels' first-half own goal, leaves them second to Portugal on goal difference in Group F ahead of Saturday's clash with Hungary in Budapest.

Benjamin Pavard revealed he was knocked out for "10 to 15 seconds" before returning to the field in France's 1-0 win over Germany at Euro 2020.

Pavard sustained a head injury following a collision with Germany's Robin Gosens as world champions France opened their Group F campaign with victory on Tuesday.

France defender Pavard was left on the floor before receiving treatment for several minutes in Munich, where he was eventually allowed to continue.

"I took a hell of a shock," Pavard told beIN Sports post-match.

"I was a little knocked out for 10 to 15 seconds. After that, it was better."

A "concussion charter" was signed by all 24 teams at Euro 2020 – a commitment to taking a series of measures to improve the care of players and includes neurological baseline testing and access to in-match television replays for team doctors.

But the incident involving Pavard has raised further questions about concussion protocols in football.

FIFPro has long called for temporary concussion substitutions and the enforcement of a minimum six-day gradual return to play.

"The issue of concussion is a very serious issue. It's a health and safety issue, which is related to their work place. In my point of view, I don't think it's been addressed in the proper manner it should be addressed," FIFPro vice-president Francis Awaritefe previously told Stats Perform.

"We've seen the medical data around the long-term risks of concussion and how they can have a deleterious long-term effect for people who suffer concussion when it's not managed properly.

"We're really worried about it because football seems to be a long way behind some of the other sports in terms of protocols and just in terms of the way how seriously they're taking concussion.

"For me, it's a massive issue. We don't want to wait until a player has a serious injury that it might end their career or worse, we have a player die on the field or soon after because of a concussion issue that wasn't treated properly.

"As a sport, we need to reflect on this and get together with experts to come up with smart and proactive solutions to deal with this really, really serious issue."

Brendan Schwab – executive director of the World Players Association – also told Stats Perform previously: "When concussed, it's not the time for the player to make a decision as to whether they should continue in a game. That is a decision that needs to be placed in the hands of independent medical assessors who have no duty other than to act in the best interests of the player.

"There needs to be independent medical assessors on the sidelines. But we do expect this to be resisted because it is resisted in other sports. We now have independent medical assessors on the sidelines of the NFL and it's only because the NFLPA fought for that right. It was a battle.

"Now the suggestion that the club doctor knows the player better than another doctor, again, is not a medically-based comment. What we do know, however, is that the club doctor who is employed by the club has a conflict of interest. That conflict of interest needs to be minimised and voided in circumstances when dealing with head injuries.

"If FIFA doesn't change, what we will see is football leagues at the national level collectively bargain their own variation of the laws of the game. In Australia, the knowledge is clear that the clubs as employers would be in breach of health and safety requirements, and acting against the wishes of the unions, by putting players back into the game when they're clearly in a vulnerable position. What's to prevail there? Laws of the game or national health and safety laws? National health and safety laws have to prevail. It won't be a defence to any action for an employer to say 'we were simply providing an unsafe work practice at the behest of FIFA'."

Paul Pogba insisted France must deal with being labelled as favourites to win Euro 2020 after he led the way with a supreme performance against Germany.

Mats Hummels' own goal gifted Euro 2016 runners-up France a 1-0 win over Germany in their opening Group F encounter in Munich on Tuesday, putting Les Bleus well on their way to progressing to the last 16.

France – who finished with just one attempt on target – had opportunities to add to their lead, with Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema having goals disallowed for offside, though Joachim Low's Germany ultimately failed to make their luck count as they lost their opening game of a European Championship for the first time.

The winner came in fortuitous circumstances, with Hummels turning in from Lucas Hernandez's cross.

Pogba's exceptional pass played in France's left-back, however, and the Manchester United midfielder was on top form, attempting more passes (52) and more in Germany's half (31) than any Les Bleus player.

He also amassed a team-high 78 touches – albeit that total was 50 less than game-leader Toni Kroos (128) – and went in for 20 duels, the most of any player.

With the world champions having been tipped to lift the trophy they missed out on against Portugal on home soil five years ago, Pogba is adamant France must live up to the billing.

"The performance of the team is the most important. Without them, I would not have been so efficient," Pogba, who was also involved in a flashpoint with Antonio Rudiger when he appeared to complain that the Germany defender had bitten him, told M6.

"They helped me, they have everyone made the effort. This victory is for everyone, those who are also on the bench and in the stands to support us.

"Everyone was talking about our status as favourite, our attack, the group of death. We must assume our status with humility."

Didier Deschamps is aiming to become the first person to win the European Championship and World Cup as both a player and coach, and was delighted with a resilient display.

"We had a big match against a very good opponent," Deschamps told M6.

"I knew that my players were going to be ready, we were fighting for everything, even if in the first half we could have got the ball out a little better. We did not suffer that much in the second period. It's a tough game.

"This is our first game. In our group, taking these three points is important. We were at the level, this victory is good for us."

Deschamps' counterpart Low said he could not have asked for any more effort from his Germany side, who mustered 10 attempts to France's four, albeit only one of them hit the target.

"We really gave everything. We fought until the end, for 90 minutes," Low told beIN Sports.

"What we missed was a goal. We conceded a goal that we could have avoided, but otherwise I have no criticism to make. We lost a match, but we continue."

Germany next host defending champions Portugal, while France travel to Budapest to face Hungary.

There was a worrying incident shortly before France's Euro 2020 game with Germany involving a Greenpeace parachutist and the stadium Spidercam. No, honestly.

The apparent protester, his chute emblazoned with 'Kick out oil', slowly circled his way towards the Allianz Arena pitch but collided with the mechanism by which the camera was suspended. Debris almost hit Didier Deschamps in the France dugout, while the man was given medical attention after coming to rest on the turf. Nobody was injured, thankfully.

It turned out that surprising wonders dropping from the sky was the theme of the day, as France began their quest for continental glory with a 1-0 win in Munich. That's a circuitous route to talking about the spontaneous brilliance of Paul Pogba. No, honestly.

Twenty minutes had gone in the first meeting of Group F's three big guns. Germany and France had nullified one another, their 3-4-3 and 4-3-1-2 systems keeping the previous two World Cup winners from laying a glove on each other. Before the game, Deschamps described these teams as the best two in the continent, and you could certainly not accuse either side of lacking respect for their opponents.

Then, Pogba appeared. A throw-in from Benjamin Pavard, a one-two, a lay-off from Karim Benzema, and the ball was into the midfielder's feet. And then it was out of them, a languid, looping pass drifting over the heads of the German back three and into the path of Lucas Hernandez, the only player who seemed aware the move was even on. His mishit cross was promptly shinned into his own net by Mats Hummels, who was perhaps still wondering how the ball had got there.

 

In many ways, it was a typical Pogba pass: it was incredible he even saw it but, once he had, of course he was going to try it. The Manchester United man is the king of the unanticipated, never shying away from the implausible, for whom the very idea of keeping it simple seems like an affront. At club level, it makes him a target for traditionalist critics; for France, he becomes the match-winner.

One of Deschamps' real triumphs has been to construct an imperious unit out of France's mighty individuals. They allowed Germany more than 60 per cent of the possession but conceded only one shot on target, their defensive cohesion summed up by Antoine Griezmann sprinting back to challenge Joshua Kimmich on the right wing shortly before injury time.

When the defence is this strong, and when N'Golo Kante is patrolling the middle, it gives Pogba the licence – the compulsion, even – to try the unexpected. It's why he rejected two simple passes to the left and drove away from his own box surrounded by three players, winning a free-kick that led to Adrien Rabiot hitting the post. It's why he found himself in the number 10 position 66 minutes in, another sublime square ball over the top finished stylishly by Kylian Mbappe but ruled out for offside. It's why Benzema's late tap-in was also disallowed, Mbappe having strayed beyond the last man because Pogba's attempt at an elaborate turn ended up delaying his own throughball.

Pogba attempted 52 passes in total, more than anyone else for France. He had 78 touches, more than anyone else for France. He contested 20 duels, five aerial duels, won four fouls and made three interceptions – all more than anyone else for France. He won back the ball 12 times and gave it away a further 22, both, naturally, the highest figures in the contest.

Matches at these tournaments are so often tactical, attritional battles, where the risky pass, the inspired finish can make all the difference. That's standard practice for Pogba, a player who reminds us there's no reason to fear falling when you live for flying.

Mats Hummels' Germany comeback was marred by an own goal as Euro 2020 favourites France started their campaign with a 1-0 victory in Munich.

Hummels, who scored the winner when Germany knocked France out of the 2014 World Cup, had been in international exile since 2018, yet his return hardly went to plan as he turned into Germany's net 20 minutes into the Group F encounter.

Joachim Low's side never seemed to settle against France's press, and were perhaps fortunate to see Antonio Rudiger go unpunished for a possible bite on Paul Pogba.

Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema had goals disallowed for offside, but Les Blues – who also hit the post through Adrien Rabiot – were not made to pay as they went unbeaten in a Euro opener for a ninth straight time.

A scrappy opening should have been punctuated by a France goal, yet Paul Pogba sent a free header over after meeting Antoine Griezmann's excellent corner.

Making his 100th start for Germany – the first goalkeeper in the nation's history to do so – Manuel Neuer had to parry Mbappe's strike as France purred.

France soon had their opener, however. Mbappe was well placed to finish from Lucas Hernandez's cross, but instead it was Hummels who sliced into his own net with Germany's defence caught cold by an exquisite Pogba pass.

Thomas Muller wasted an immediate chance to equalise, before Pogba seemed to complain Rudiger had bitten him, though the replays were inconclusive. 

France looked all set to double their lead early in the second half, only for Rabiot to hit the near post from close range after ignoring a simple pass to the waiting Griezmann.

Rabiot's chance kicked Germany into gear – Serge Gnabry's volley skidding off the turf and just over Hugo Lloris' crossbar.

A delayed offside flag denied Mbappe a spectacular solo strike in the 66th minute, before the Paris Saint-Germain star skipped beyond Hummels with ease.

To his credit, Hummels recovered with a last-ditch tackle, and though Benzema then had a goal on his major tournament comeback disallowed, three-time champions Germany failed to make their good fortune count.

Joachim Low believes Germany have the right mix in attack to cause France problems as the two heavyweight nations prepare to do battle at Euro 2020.

Tuesday's huge clash pits the previous two World Cup winners against each other in Munich, with reigning European champions Portugal and Hungary the other nations in Group F.

France have been boosted by the international return of Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid striker joining Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud - who is five goals shy of Thierry Henry's record of 51 goals for Les Bleus - as attacking options for head coach Didier Deschamps to utilise.

However, on the eve of the contest, Low has made clear he is not short of talent in his own squad, meaning defenders for both sides will have to be on high alert at all times.

"It's obvious we also have a lot of qualities in our team, a good balance and the right mix in attack," Low told the media on Monday.

"We have a lot of quality. Timo Werner, Leroy Sane, these are players who can decide matches. Kai Havertz, Thomas Muller and Serge Gnabry too.

"I think both attacks are a real threat, you shouldn't let them out of sight.

"You have to be focused every minute, because all of these players can score and be decisive."

Leon Goretzka could be involved in his country's opening fixture having trained with his team-mates as he continues his recovery from a torn muscle.

"It's only Jonas Hofmann who is not available. All other players have joined in with training, Leon as well was with us," Low said when asked for a squad update.

"I think he [Goretzka] trained four or five sessions with the team, overall he gave a good impression and he doesn't feel anything from his injury.

"He won't be risked, but I've said to Leon we will talk after our final training session. It's clear that he won't be in the starting XI just because the break he's had is too long.

"We will talk and take a decision over whether he can be on the bench, maybe give him some minutes. We will talk with the medical department about him too, I just wanted him to participate in training and if something wasn't going well he could tell me."

For Low, this is the start of his farewell tour with the national team. He will step down once the tournament is over but hopes to be celebrating after his final game in charge.

"I don't think about it that it's my last tournament, my last matches. I'm just too focused on preparations for this tournament," he said. 

"I'm focused on this year, maybe in a few weeks, hopefully when we've won the tournament, then I might be sad. But not at the moment, I'm focused on our task here."

Low's former assistant Hansi Flick will take over after Euro 2020.

Kylian Mbappe needed clear-the-air talks with Olivier Giroud, but their argument is now in the past, according to France captain Hugo Lloris.

Les Bleus' preparations for Euro 2020 have been overshadowed by an apparent spat between two of their forwards, which stems from the friendly win over Bulgaria last week.

Giroud indicated he was unhappy with some of the service he received in the 3-0 victory, comments that were perceived to be aimed specifically at Mbappe, who exchanged passes with the Chelsea forward just three times in 43 minutes.

The Paris Saint-Germain star admitted last weekend that he had been "a little affected" by Giroud's remarks, while coach Didier Deschamps held a discussion with both players.

Lloris said Mbappe felt the need to speak his mind, but insisted the problem was overblown.

"It made more noise outside than inside," he said on Monday ahead of France's Euro 2020 opener with Germany. "The two explained things the next day.

"There were some small differences, but these things happen. It didn't affect the group. Kylian needed to speak out. It's behind us now."

Giroud is expected to start on the bench in Munich, with Deschamps more likely to keep faith with the front three of Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann, who all started against Bulgaria.

Lloris thinks the thought of facing such an attack is likely to give the Germany defenders some sleepless nights, even if France's collective performance will be more important.

"They are players of a very high level, who have been regulars for many years," he said.

"Mbappe is younger than Benzema and Griezmann, but he has already done great things.

"I understand there is some fear among our opponents, but if we want to achieve a big result, we'll need to have great collective strength and be well balanced on the pitch."

Lloris also praised the actions of Denmark and Finland players and fans during Saturday's match in Copenhagen, in which Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch and required emergency treatment before being taken to hospital.

The midfielder, a former Tottenham team-mate of Lloris, was confirmed by Denmark's doctor as having suffered cardiac arrest. He was said to be awake and stable in hospital and issued a statement on Monday to thank those who looked after him.

"We learned about him after training," Lloris said. "There was a lot of concern and stress, but we were quickly assured of his condition.

"These are pictures you don't want to see on the pitch. I want to highlight the personality of the Danish and Finnish players and the supporters. They were able to handle the incident with dignity and solidarity.

"What happened affected the world of football. The most important thing is that Christian is in good condition."

France get their Euro 2020 campaign underway against Germany on Tuesday in a game described by Didier Deschamps as a meeting of Europe's best two teams.

Les Bleus, winners of the 2018 World Cup, are bidding to win the European Championship directly after being crowned world champions for the second time, having done the same double in 1998 and 2000.

Head coach Deschamps played at each of those tournaments and is bidding to become the first person in history to win the World Cup and the Euros as both player and coach.

France were handed a devilish group, though, alongside Portugal - who beat them in the Euro 2016 final on home soil - and 2014 world champions Germany, who lost to the hosts at the semi-final stage five years ago.

France are unbeaten in their past five games in Germany, but Joachim Low's side have never lost their opening match at the Euros, last failing to win their first game against the Netherlands in 2004.

Still, Germany's preparations have not been easy. They lost 6-0 to Spain last November – a result that almost cost Low the chance to lead the team into one final major tournament – and they suffered a shock home defeat to North Macedonia in World Cup qualifying in March.

They are now in 12th position in the FIFA rankings, but Deschamps thinks there are no stronger opponents France could face at these championships.

"The quality of our opponents tomorrow makes this a fantastic encounter," he said on Monday. "It's going to be a great match for us. We're the best two teams in Europe, so it's about being focused in defence and clinical in attack.

"There is individual quality in every position, but the players can play in very different positions, be flexible.

"There are other players like [Timo] Werner, or [Leroy] Sane, who have a different kind of playing style. We'll see who will start in attack. They are important for Germany, obviously, and we have to stop them from having a lot of impact in the game."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

France – Antoine Griezmann

Much of France's build-up has been dominated by a rumoured bust-up between Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud, who needs only five goals to match Thierry Henry's all-time scoring record for Les Bleus.

It is Griezmann, though, who will likely worry Germany the most. He scored both goals in that semi-final five years ago, taking his tally to four against them, and he has been directly involved in 14 goals over the past two major tournaments, more than any other European player.

Germany – Thomas Muller

Back at a major tournament again after being told his international career was over in late 2019, Muller will now bid to end a peculiar barren run at the European Championship.

The Bayern Munich star has never scored at this event in 11 appearances, which is particularly odd for a man with 10 goals in 16 World Cup matches.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be the sixth meeting between France and Germany at a major tournament, but their first in the group stages. So far, their head-to-head record is perfectly balanced with two wins each and a draw.
- Since – and including – World Cup 2014, France have won 14 of their 19 games at major tournaments (World Cup and European Championship), more than any other European team over that period prior to Euro 2020, ahead of Belgium (13 wins in 17 games) and Germany (10 wins in 16 games).
- Germany are taking part in their 13th European Championship, more than any other team. They have won the trophy three times, the most alongside Spain. Their next game will also be their 50th in the tournament, becoming the first team to reach that milestone.
- Only two European goalkeepers have made more appearances at major international tournaments than Germany's Manuel Neuer (27): Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon (31 each).
- This will be Low’s 18th game as coach in the Euros, a record. Low has led Germany to the semi-finals in five of his six previous tournaments, the only exception coming at World Cup 2018 (group-stage elimination).

Didier Deschamps has confirmed Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema are fit to play a part in France's Euro 2020 opener against Germany.

Griezmann sustained a calf injury in France's 3-0 win over Bulgaria on Tuesday in their final warm-up match and Benzema left the pitch before half-time with a dead leg.

However, both players took part in full training on Saturday and Deschamps expects to have a fully-fit squad to choose from at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday.

Asked if Griezmann and Benzema will be available against Germany, Deschamps told TF1: "Yes, it looks like it. Everyone took part in yesterday's training session.

"We have two sessions left before the game and there shouldn't be any problems."

Griezmann's return to fitness is a big boost for France, with the Barcelona forward having scored more goals against Germany (four) with France than against any other team.

He has also been directly involved in more goals (14) than any other European player over the past two major tournaments – 10 goals and four assists in 14 games at Euro 2016 and the World Cup in 2018.

Benzema was not involved in either tournament for Les Blues after being exiled from the national team for nearly six years prior to his surprise recall last month.

The Real Madrid striker made his first appearance for the world champions in five years and 237 days in the recent 3-0 friendly win against Wales, a game in which he missed a penalty.

That was Benzema's third penalty miss in a row for his national side, having also failed to convert against Switzerland and Sweden in 2014, and he only lasted 41 minutes before limping off against Bulgaria.

But Benzema is now expected to start against Germany in Tuesday's huge Group F clash in Bavaria.

"If I resumed training with the squad yesterday it means I've got nothing amiss, no pain," he told TF1.

"Physically I feel good as I was training indoors, so I'm 100 per cent."

France and Germany have met on five previous occasions at major tournaments, winning two matches apiece and drawing the other.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.