No offense to Wales and Portugal, but this is the semi-final most neutral spectators want to see: this Thursday, 7 July, Germany must battle it out with host France for a place in Sunday’s European Championship Final.
Surprisingly, these two early-tournament favourites' respective routes to the last four could not have been any different. The Germans needed a penalty shootout to see off a resurgent Italy after 120 minutes of tit-for-tat action.
France, meanwhile, were afforded the luxury of taking on a clearly fatigued Iceland, who perhaps were afflicted with the classic ‘after the lord major’s show’ syndrome following their 2-1 win over England last week. Could those varying degrees of difficulty in making it to the semi-finals be definitive in determining the outcome of this match?
To reach the final of Euro 2016, Germany will need to outfox the tournament hosts in the historic Stade Vélodrome, where 67,000 fanatical Francophiles will be hoping that their side can reach a third major final on home soil. That's certainly not for the faint of heart.
The good news for Joachim Low’s side is that, historically at least, they tend to have a hex on France in international tournament matches. They have met four times on the big stage, with the Germans winning the last three.
The most recent of those came at the World Cup in 2014, where a Mats Hummels header was enough to separate the two teams in their quarter final showdown. As mentioned, France have a phenomenal record of going deep into tournaments they host, with trophy wins at the European Championships of 1984 and the World Cup in 1998.
As is par for the course, history often repeats itself, so which prominent statistic will remain intact after Thursday’s semi-final?
With so much at stake, it is easy to forgive the players involved in major tournament matches for turning them into tight, conservative and largely risk-free encounters: nobody wants to be the fall guy with the hopes of a nation on their shoulders.
So it would be reasonable to expect the last four contests to be low-scoring, technical affairs, with plenty of ball retention but little in the way of goalmouth action. Historically, however, that hasn’t always been the case.
The two semi-finals at the 2014 World Cup, for instance, witnessed eight goals – and those all came in one match. While Argentina and the Netherlands were going toe-for-toe in a 0-0 stalemate, Germany were demolishing the host nation Brazil 7-1.
The Germans destroying the hopes of the hosts in a semi-final...how they would love a repeat of that outcome on Thursday! And the theme continues throughout the ages.
At the European Championships of 2012 and 2008, the four semi-final scores were 2-1, 0-0, 3-2 and 3-0, while at the World Cup 2010 the Germans went down 0-1 to Spain as the Netherlands played out a five-goal thriller with Uruguay in the other last four meeting.
There is precedence for goals in these matches and there is no reason to suggest that Germany’s battle with France will be any different.
Didier Deschamps’ men have scored in four of their five games at Euro 2016. The one in which they didn’t – the Group A clash with Switzerland – was a dead rubber for the hosts who had already mathematically secured the top spot in the group.
The last time Les Bleus failed to score was some ten matches ago against England in November. In that period, they averaged 2.40 goals every 90 minutes.
With the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Dimitri Payet and Olivier Giroud in their ranks, who are all inside the top five goalscorers at Euro 2016, they will fancy their chances of breaching the German defence once again.
But Germany are themselves no slouch in front of goal: they have scored in eight of their last ten outings, registering 1.40 strikes per game on average. The Both Teams to Score market, available at 11/10 with NetBet Sports, looks a relative formality.
Eagle-eyed observers will have noticed that this preview has tiptoed around the subject of who will win the match and that’s because it's almost too close to call.
Only a brave punter would pin their hopes on one of these teams or the other, so backing the draw at 2/1 with Coral Sports is perhaps the smartest move. Extra time and even penalties loom to decide this dust-up’s fate.
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