Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Football: Mueller kick-starts Germany’s post-Flick era with win over France

Veteran forward Thomas Mueller kick-started Germany’s post-Hansi Flick era, scoring early to set the Euro 2024 hosts on the way to a 2-1 friendly win over France in Dortmund on Tuesday.

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Flick’s sacking on Sunday triggered Rudi Voeller’s return to the dugout for the first time since 2005.

The interim coach brought Mueller back into the starting line-up and the move paid off early, Mueller scoring four minutes in.

Mueller’s Bayern team-mate Leroy Sane scored with three minutes remaining to double his side’s lead.

Sane gave away a penalty just a minute later. France captain Antoine Griezmann converted but Germany held on for a 2-1 win — just their second victory in seven games since the Qatar World Cup.

“Our early goal was good for us,” Muller said at the final whistle.

“We knew we’d have a lot to do. It wasn’t easy for us with this bad run, and the departure of Hansi Flick at the end of the week was a crazy situation.”

Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was relieved.

“It was balm for the soul. It was a curious and difficult few days, so it’s all the nicer that we were able to end it with a win,” he said. “That was what we needed.”

Voeller said the win was “a liberation for all of us, for me, the players, and the German FA (DFB)”, telling the ARD TV network “that’ll simply do us good”.

France manager Didier Deschamps praised Germany’s “attacking danger”, saying “even in such a situation, they have the quality.”

Mbappe benched 

Fresh from Thursday’s 2-0 Euro qualifier victory over Ireland, France’s fifth straight win since losing the 2022 World Cup final on penalties to Argentina, Deschamps made six changes including benching star striker Kylian Mbappe.

Deschamps revealed after the match Mbappe had a “light injury – and we didn’t want to take the risk in this game.”

Deschamps’ counterpart and old friend Voeller — the two won the Champions League with Marseille in 1993 — made just three changes to Flick’s final line-up, including returning Mueller to centre-forward for the first time since Qatar.

The home crowd at Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park rallied behind their embattled side.

The fans did not need to wait long to celebrate, Mueller rewarding Voeller’s faith by opening the scoring four minutes in, chesting down a spinning Benjamin Henrichs cross and blasting in from close range.

Mueller’s first Germany goal since June 2022 lifted his confidence perhaps a little too much. The Bayern forward tried a mid-air backheel from a Florian Wirtz cross but scuffed the ball wide.

Germany were energised and direct. Even an injury to captain Ilkay Gundogan midway through the first half failed to take the wind out of their sails. Gundogan was replaced by 32-year-old debutant Pascal Gross.

‘Long way to go’ 

Slotting in alongside the impressive Emre Can in midfield, Gross showed no signs of nerves, barking instructions at his teammates as he sought to direct Germany’s attack.

With nothing but pride at stake, France were in cruise control throughout, their best chance falling to Randal Kolo Muani midway through the second half.

With German goalie ter Stegen on the floor having kept out a fierce effort from Aurelien Tchouameni, Kolo Muani, who left the Bundesliga for Paris Saint-Germain at the start of the month, slipped with an open goal begging.

With three minutes to go, Sane ran onto a perfect through ball from Kai Havertz, and slotted in his second goal in two games.

Sane quickly turned villain, bringing down Eduardo Camavinga just one minute later.

Griezmann converted the penalty for a fifth goal in Germany-France fixtures, the most of any player.

Germany’s last win over France was a 1-0 victory in the quarter finals of the 2014 World Cup, they have failed to win any of their last six meetings.

“It’s great to win against France,” said Mueller. “It was fun, but we don’t need to overstate it. We still have a long way to go, but it was a small burst of emotional liberation.”


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