World champions France started their Euro 2020 campaign with a win over Germany thanks to a Mats Hummels’ own goal in a high-quality heavyweight Group F match.
Hummels – recalled for this tournament after being told by coach Joachim Low in 2019 that his international career was over – diverted Lucas Hernandez’s cross into his own net in the first half of a fascinating contest in Munich.
Tournament favourites France were marginally the better of the two sides, but appeared to be in third gear for much of it.
Paul Pogba sent the ball over the bar from a corner with his shoulder, Kylian Mbappe had an angled shot saved, he and Karim Benzema had goals ruled out for offside and Adrian Rabiot hit the outside of the post.
Germany came into the finals with big questions over their best XI as well as their chances of success after an uncharacteristically turbulent few years, but proved typically competitive finals opponents.
Thomas Muller – another player recalled after being jettisoned by Low – headed wide, with Ilkay Gundogan slicing an effort past the post from a good position in the box and Serge Gnabry seeing a shot deflected on to the roof of the net.
It was not just the actual football that was of interest either.
There was a hint that Germany defender Antonio Rudiger may have bitten the shoulder of Pogba in the first half, although replays proved inconclusive.
This came after a Greenpeace protestor had parachuted into the stadium, shedding equipment as he crashed to the pitch before being hurried away by security.
France’s win means they and Portugal, who beat Hungary 3-0 in Budapest earlier on Tuesday, take the early initiative in a highly competitive Group F.
France do what is required
When the draw for the finals was made, this was a standout fixture – a winners’ convention between two of the continent’s most decorated sides, containing some of the modern game’s highest individual achievers.
The two nations have five European Championship titles between them and six World Cup wins, with only three of the players starting the game in Munich without a Champions League winners’ medal in their collection.
Just to add a bit more spice, the two countries also have some on-field history, most notably the encounter at the 1982 World Cup, which included the infamous clash between German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher and France defender Patrick Battiston.
While the encounter did not produce a timeless classic, it did showcase a consistent level of skill and intelligence rarely seen so far in the competition.
France supplied much of it, with Pogba and N’Golo Kante a complimentary midfield pairing of grit and guile, and the front three of Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema a constant menace to a vulnerable German defence.
With such attacking riches at France’s disposal, it could be seen as a negative that it took an own goal to seal this win, but they could easily have added to the scoreline had the forwards timed their runs better.
At 33, Benzema can be forgiven for going early to gain an advantage and drawing the offside flag that ruled out his finish, but Mbappe has pace to burn and is less in need of the extra yard.
In the end, Hummels’ own goal was all France needed to get off to a winning start in their quest to unite the European Championship trophy with the World Cup – as they did 21 years ago.
Germany lack their usual composure
Regardless of the outcome, Euro 2020 will be Low’s final hurrah as Germany boss, with Hansi Flick ready to succeed him after the tournament.
This is arguably the weakest German side he has taken into a major tournament – having led his nation at seven – and is certainly the least settled, with the coach still seemingly unsure as to his best XI or even best formation.
However, they still retain quality in the side, most notably in defender Joshua Kimmich and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, and have experience now too thanks to Low’s decision to recall Hummels and Muller.
The wisdom of drafting back Hummels, though, may be questioned by some after his calamitous attempt to clear Lucas Hernandez’s cross that resulted in him shinning in France’s winner.
What was most apparent was the lack of that extra level of composure, class and self-belief so inherent in previous German sides.
They huffed and puffed after going behind but never looked like hurting the French, even with Leroy Sane, Timo Werner and Kevin Volland thrown into the mix.
It was not the calamity some feared but it was a first-ever opening-match defeat for the Germans at a European Championship finals.