Coach Didier Deschamps believes his players are ready to write a new page in the history of French football at Euro 2016 on Thursday when the hosts attempt to beat Germany for the first time for 58 years in a competitive match.
The French go into the semi-final against the world champions in Marseille as underdogs. Even though they have twice won the European championship, they have not beaten their German neighbours outside of friendlies since the 1958 World Cup.
During six decades, French fans have been forced to endure World Cup semi-final losses in 1982 and 1986 and, most recently, a 1-0 quarter-final defeat at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“Nobody can change history, but we have a new page to write,” Deschamps said. “It’s a blank page today, but they can fill it tomorrow. I think the players believe and the people too, but our opponents remain the best team.”
Deschamps, who captained France to World Cup and European trophies in 1998 and 2000, said his side could not compete with Germany in terms of experience, caps and number of semi-finals or finals. But he said they had enough quality to win.
“I don’t want to play this game thinking of just defending,” he said. “We have offensive strength to score and create chances with players of different profiles and we can put our opponent in danger.”
France did beat Germany 2-0 in a friendly last November on the night that Islamist militants struck in Paris, but captain Hugo Lloris said it would mean nothing tomorrow night.
“We’re very close to the end of the tournament so the bodies are tired and that means the mind will start to take over,” he said. “We have that little spark that has been guiding us since the start.”
Deschamps said he knew how he would play tactically tomorrow, although at this stage, given the injuries and suspensions in the German team, he had no idea how his opponents would line up.
He will also be looking to emulate the success of Michel Platini’s generation in 1984 when the French came from behind to defeat Portugal in a semi-final in Marseille before going on to win the tournament.
Deschamps, a former coach and player for Marseille, said the passionate local crowd could also give his young side the edge.
“We will have the public totally behind us and that will play its role. We’ll need it because we will have difficult times,” he said.