All that talent, all that expectation, and in the end it came down to a first-half own goal, scored by Mats Hummels. But don’t think that the story of this game between the last two World Cup winners, the opening night that could have been the climax of the entire competition, can be told so easily.
Don’t believe that France will be removed easily, either. After a difficult first half Germany tried everything here – at one point Antonio Rüdiger even appeared to bite Paul Pogba – and might have succeeded with better finishing from Serge Gnabry or greater clarity in the final, tense minutes, but there was no way through.
There is something about Didier Deschamps, France’s coach, a strength and variety that no one else has, an athleticism and resilience too, still standing at the end of an enthralling evening in Munich.
Yes, there were empty spaces, but this felt like a proper occasion and sounded like one too. “Only” 14,000 were there, a quarter of capacity, but it was noisy from the start and it never stopped. Nor, although this was Munich, did it feel like a home game: this was two sets of fans, chanting at each other across the turf, every tackle a shout, every run a roar.
And as for the Marseillaise, that was belted out, of course. France did not take the knee before the game, but there was a Greenpeace protester parachuting in, sailing past the stand and crashing on to the pitch where Rüdiger went to see if he was all right, which he was – if a little tangled up.
The Marseillaise is a call to arms, and it felt like one too inside this arena, the first chance a header from Hummels, the first clash Pogba on Toni Kroos, the first card handed to Joshua Kimmich, the first slide tackle from Matthias Ginter, loudly cheered by the crowd. All that and they had been playing only seven minutes. Another five and there was a first glimpse of Karim Benzema, looking a lot like Zinedine Zidane, plucking the ball from the sky.
Just after that, France really opened Germany up for the first time, Benjamin Pavard racing up the right.
And then Kylian Mbappé stepped inside and brought the first save from Manuel Neuer, still inside quarter of an hour. But it is the core of the side that leaves you feeling that they are impenetrable, with N’Golo Kanté, Adrien Rabiot and Pogba and that lovely tiptoed bounce of his, plus an eye for a pass which became increasingly important here.
He might have got the opening goal too, heading over Antoine Griezmann’s corner. And there too is a footballer, by the way: as quick-footed, and quick in thought too, linking it all together.
Even in those early stages when France were not dominating exactly, there was something about them that felt so assured, a team that would get you some way. What no one expected was that it would be this way, an own goal from Hummels. But if the finish was bad, the move was superb, culminating in a lovely ball from the outside of Pogba’s boot to the left where Lucas Hernández was bursting in to smash a low cross which flew into the net off Hummels’s shin.
Immediately, Thomas Müller headed just past the post at the other end and then Ilkay Gündogan was taken down on the edge of the area. A minute later, Müller tumbled in a similar position, given no way through.
Neither free-kick, both taken by Kroos, troubled Hugo Lloris. A great chance also dropped for Gündogan, which he put wide on the bounce, and Kai Havertz saw a shot blocked by Raphaël Varane. Opportunities were not lacking.
Between those chances, Pogba bent a gorgeous ball to Benzema to bring down on the chest. Nothing came of it, but sometimes it is just nice to watch good footballers play and it fit a feeling that France were taking control, as if aware at perhaps some unconscious level that they had this, by control or by counter. Mbappé underlined that when he put Ginter in a position no one wants to be in, the PSG forward skipping past him. Mbappé did so again at the start of the second half, a sharp first-time pass releasing Rabiot. Griezmann was free but Rabiot struck a shot against the near post.
There was still a match out there, though, and Germany were increasingly in it, Gnabry hitting a bouncing volley just over the bar when he should have done better. The noise rose from the other end now and Germany rose with it, stepping up. Kimmich then delivered a wonderful cross that saw Robin Gosens fly in, wipe out Pavard, and fall into the six-yard box, where he accidentally blocked Kroos’s shot.
This was different now, a momentum building from Germany: faster, more aggressive, more determined to go beyond the defence. Not that France’s threat ever goes away, and another clever Pogba ball found Mbappé, who controlled, stopped, started, stopped again and then bent the ball into the far corner of the net, only to see the flag up for offside.
Mbappé’s superiority seems effortless every time he runs and twice more he showcased that. He might have won a penalty when he burned past Hummels, starting a good seven or eight metres behind him and finishing a metre in front where the centre-back just managed to dive in and take it off his toe. And another run seemed to have wrapped it all up when he escaped everyone and rolled it across for Benzema to score, the same flag delivering. France were not to be denied. Joachim Löw had made changes, Timo Werner and Leroy Sané sent on, Germany seeking the equaliser. Yet resisting is just another thing France do well, perhaps better even than the rest of it – and they’re good at that.