The second Euro 2016 semi-final sees Germany aim to move to within 90 minutes of becoming the third nation this century to hold both major tournament titles simultaneously, but opponents France have home advantage and are coming on strong.
This is a massively anticipated clash, and the winner will be the favourites to lift the trophy on Sunday. It is likely to be tight and could go right to the wire, with Germany’s experience and know-how potentially giving them a slight psychological edge, although France arguably have more flair in their side.
While their opening four games provided glimpses of such eye-catching ability, it was not until the quarter-finals against Iceland where Les Bleus really flexed their muscles, hitting four goals in a first half masterclass to end the game as a contest by the interval.
In doing so, Antoine Griezmann became the outright leading goalscorer in Euro 2016, applying a glorious finish to a wonderfully executed team move to net for the fourth time in the completion. Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet also added to their respective tallies, highlighting the talent and potency within the hosts’ ranks.
Confidence is high, and the only concern at this stage for France is that they are yet to face any of the leading lights, which may render them a little unprepared for this one. The return of defender Adil Rami and tenacious midfielder N’Golo Kante does provide a major boost, however, and they should have every reason to be confident of reaching a final for the first time since the 2006 World Cup.
Despite their status as world champions and the experience within their squad, Germany probably come into this one as slight underdogs. They can consider themselves a little fortunate to have made it through their quarter-final with Italy, emerging from an erratic penalty shootout which followed a cagey affair.
An injury to Mario Gomez which will keep him out of the remainder of the tournament means that boss Joachim Low will be forced into a tactical rearrangement here, and the possible return to playing without a recognised centre forward. That might make them easier to defend against, and indeed add to the pressure on Thomas Muller to rediscover his scoring boots.
The most impressive attacking outlets for Germany so far has been in the wide areas, particularly in the shape of Jonas Hector. The left-back has served as a tireless contributor to each of their games, covering a staggering amount of ground and never losing sight of his defensive duties. On the other side, Joshua Kimmich has also shown great promise.
Both teams like to play on the front foot, but each will show a degree of caution at the Stade Velodrome, where the stakes are so high. France have come a long way since losing to Germany in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup, so will not enter this with any kind of inferiority complex, but the efficiency for which Germany are so well renowned must surely count for something.
On paper this should be a classic, but in reality it will be tight and tense. After all, Brazil are not involved…
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