Areola saves world champs

Reuters, MUNICH, Germany

Sat, Sep 08, 2018 - Page 16

World champions France on Thursday never hit top form and had third-choice goalkeeper Alphonse Areola to thank for a 0-0 draw against Germany in their inaugural UEFA Nations League game, their first appearance since lifting the FIFA World Cup.

On a rainy evening in Munich, Germany won back some respect with a battling performance after their shock World Cup group-stage exit in Russia, their earliest in 80 years in the tournament.

The French looked to be nursing a post-World Cup hangover, lacking their usual speed and creativity, and but for Areola’s key saves in the second half the final scoreline would have been different.

“We did what we set out to do, to be compact and stable,” Germany midfielder Toni Kroos said. “We did that well. In the first half they did not have a chance. We controlled the game well, did not concede any breaks and we were a bit unlucky not to have scored. It was good, but it was just the first step.”

The UEFA Nations League aims to boost interest in the autumn and spring internationals, which were seen by clubs and fans as disruptive to the domestic soccer season.

To be held every two years, it features all 55 of Europe’s national teams divided into four divisions split into four groups.

Unusually, Germany started with four central defenders and with Joshua Kimmich switching from right back to a holding midfield position, as coach Joachim Loew tried to strike a better balance between attack and defense than his team had done in Russia.

His France counterpart, Didier Deschamps, fielded his World Cup final team, including Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba, apart for injured goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, with Areola making his debut.

Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer did well to save a Griezmann effort just past the hour, but it was Areola who made the saves of the day, first punching Marco Reus’ close-range effort wide.

The 25-year-old, who only got to start because Lloris and second choice goalkeeper Steve Mandanda were injured, denied Mats Hummels, tipped a Thomas Mueller chip over the bar and stopped Matthias Ginter from scoring from close range.

“It was important for us to show commitment,” Germany forward Mueller said. “Late in the game we started an offensive when we saw that the French were running out of power. It is a pity we did not score with the chances we had.”