World champions Germany fly home from Euro 2016 on Friday for a post mortem into how die Mannschaft missed the chance to add the European title after their 2-0 semifinal defeat to France.
Antoine Griezmann’s double strike in Marseille sealed France’s deserved victory to send them to Sunday’s final against Portugal and Germany home.
“France has earned the right to be in the final and I think that the French will win against Portugal,” said Germany coach Joachim Loew.
“I think France are good, but we were better.”
Nevertheless, the scoreline contradicts Loew’s appraisal as the post-mortem begins back home as to what went wrong.
“France totally deserved to win,” ex-captain Michael Ballack told German daily Bild.
Lothar Matthaeus, Germany’s most-capped player, was critical of Loew for having again changed his system, “it creates uncertainty”.
Germany reverted to their standard 4-2-3-1 formation against France having played a back-three against Italy in the quarterfinals.
After the European Championships finals, Loew celebrates a decade in charge and under his stewardship they have reached at least the semifinals of the last six major tournaments.
The 56-year-old has a German FA (DFB) contract until the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
His bosses want to extend his deal, but Loew has left his future open and said he will consider his future in the light of their Euro 2016 post-mortem.
Loew’s future open
“I’ll speak to the players and coaching staff when we look at the tournament,” said Loew.
“There will be a relatively short analysis of the tournament, as I didn’t see that we made many mistakes.”
But die Mannschaft know they wasted their chance to beat the hosts.
Germany were punished for some sloppy first half finishing and failed to convert any of their 18 shots on goal, despite 68% possession.
“We played our best game at these European Championship, as weird as that sounds when you’ve lost 2-0,” admitted midfielder Toni Kroos.
“I can’t blame the team for anything and we went behind after a stupid incident.”
The ‘stupid incident’ was Nicola Rizzoli’s controversial penalty decision just before the half time break.
The eagle-eyed referee spotted a handball by Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger from a corner, pointed to the penalty spot and changed the course of the game.
The French could scarcely believe their luck.
Griezmann calmly slotted home the spot kick, then added a second after the break to put the result beyond doubt.
“The penalty was of course a shock and I had to calm the players down in the dressing room,” admitted Loew.
“Then it was hard for us, as they countered very well.”
“We were brave and overall our team did well.”
But Loew knows the world champions lost their heads when the penalty was awarded against them and never fully regained their composure.
Discipline was a factor in Marseille as Liverpool’s Emre Can, in for injured Sami Khedira, picked up a needless yellow for bringing down Griezmann, then argued with Rizzoli.
Mesut Ozil was booked for kicking the ball away in disgust after the penalty decision, while Thomas Mueller had to restrain some teammates furious with the decision.
Ballack’s pre-tournament comment that Germany lack strong leadership may well return to trouble Loew.
Handball penalties were the thorn in Germany’s side in the knockout stages.
Jerome Boateng conceded one in Bordeaux, which took their quarterfinal against Italy to penalties.
Then Schweinsteiger was caught out when defending a corner and both players should have known better.
Loew will point to injuries and Mats Hummels suspension as the main reasons they lost to France.
But with Mario Gomez injured, neither Mario Goetze nor Thomas Mueller, who has now gone 11 straight game without scoring at Euro finals, hit the net in France.
On a positive note, after two years of experimenting, Loew finally seems to have found his ideal back four, with Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector having nailed down the wing-back berths.
And in Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil, Germany are never short of creative playmakers who find holes in the opponents’ defence.
But two years after Miroslav Klose retired, Germany still does not have a settled striker, a problem Loew must solve.
Germany’s next match is a friendly against Finland in Moechengladbach on August 31, to warm-up for their first World Cup qualifier against Norway in Oslo on September 4.