The Beckenbauer column: Portugal will be a tough nut to crack for a Griezmann-inspired France
Portugal is justly in the final - and this will be anything but a stroll for France. Especially since the Portuguese have a day longer to recuperate.
By Franz Beckenbauer
That was a thrilling match and a worthy semi-final - and by far the best match seen at the 2016 European Championships. I'm talking about the 2-0 win by tournament hosts France over the world champions Germany. In the end, France's victory was earned because Germany made two mistakes while missing out on a great many goal opportunities. Understandably, the joy in France is great, while naturally for Germany it is a shame.
German captain Bastian Schweinsteiger played a good match, considering that he had been injured so much. He was in motion, and it was not because of him that Germany was eliminated. Still, I have to ask myself why Schweinsteiger had his hand up in the air in the penalty area, the same that happened to Jerome Boateng in the quarterfinal against Italy.
In both cases it led to penalty shots. The danger is all that much greater than when you keep your arms down while jumping up to try to head the ball. I don't know where this new fad has come from. And against France it was naturally bitter that it happened just before the half-time whistle and so gave the French a real boost.
But what was decisive was that Germany had to replace so many key players. In the back line there was Mats Hummels, while up front it was striker Mario Gomez and in the midfield, Sami Khedira. That was a well-versed team, a real force on the pitch. Then came the breaking point after an hour when, as Germany was getting stronger and stronger, Boateng was injured and had to leave. With him gone, the team's order was lost as well. This could no longer be compensated, and Antoine Griezmann clinched matters with his goal making it 2-0.
All the same, that Germany was eliminated in the semi-final by the hosts and top favourites is not a setback for this young team. On the contrary, they played a great match, despite all the handicaps.
This is not meant to diminish the performance of the French and above all, Griezmann. He is by far the flashiest player, and not just because of his goal tally, now at six. He scores with the precision of clockwork. It is tremendous the way this Atletico Madrid striker is able to play virtually without a mistake at the very front. Whereas Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo only gradually has warmed up in this tournament, Griezmann has been there from the very first match.
I have already said that the winner of the France-Germany match will be the next European champion. But Portugal is justly in the final - and this will be anything but a stroll for France. Especially since the Portuguese have a day longer to recuperate.
Ronaldo's header making it 1-0 in the semi-final against Wales - the huge surprise team this year - is a tournament highlight that will be remembered. The way he rose up and seemed to stop in mid-air, with his back stiff and his neck stiff in order to put power behind the ball, cannot be executed any better. You won't find this anywhere else in the world.
I'll always remember the day once when I got together with Alex Ferguson, the legendary trainer and manager at Manchester United where Ronaldo was still playing. Sir Alex told me: "Franz, you cannot imagine a harder-working player than Ronaldo. Whether it's before training, or afterwards - day in and day out, he is practicing his dribbling, his free kicks. When talent, willpower and hard work come together, that's when you get world-class."
Like Ronaldo, Portugal has improved its game after only a lukewarm start in the tournament. In the 3-3 against Hungary, which enabled Portugal as third in the group to just narrowly qualify for the Final 16, Ronaldo was brilliant with his artistic heel-kick goal. Maybe there is more left yet for him to show. In the set-piece situations there is hardly any defence against Ronaldo, except for trying to keep him far away from the goal.
Bayern Munich, at least, can congratulate itself on signing Renato Sanches. It is amazing that this 18-year-old - or whatever age he may be - can dominate a match. In the semi-final it may have been that he was not quite able to cope with all the praise, the pressure and the debate about whether he is maybe older. It was the first time in this tournament that I consciously kept an eye on him and I can well imagine that in the final against France he will raise his level again.
And so the final should really be exciting.
Subscribe to Moneycontrol Pro at ₹499 for the first year. Use code PRO499. Limited period offer. *T&C apply
The draw gives leaders Inter Milan the chance to pull 10 points clear of Juventus when they play mid-table Genoa at the San Siro on Sunday.
It has been a strange season in many ways, not least because of the COVID bio-bubble the players, staff, and officials were forced into. Here are some of the talking points that shaped the season.
The already-delayed opening Grand Slam of the year was plunged into yet more chaos last week when Australia's second most populous city was ordered behind closed doors after a new COVID-19 cluster.