EURO 2016 semifinals: Key battles in Germany vs. France

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Ahead of the massive EURO 2016 semifinal on Thursday in Marseille between Germany and France, it is time to take a look at where this game will be won and lost.

Two years ago at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Germany squeaked past France 1-0 in the quarterfinals and we can expect this clash between the World Cup champs and the host nation to be tight and tense once again.

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Germany has some issues with Mario Gomez and Sami Khedira out injured, while Mats Hummels is suspended. France has no selection issues but only the weight of an entire nation on their shoulders as they look to reach the final on home soil this Sunday against Portugal.

Quite simply: whoever wins this game will be favorites to win EURO 2016.

Let’s take look at three key battles which will likely determine the outcome of this game.

Mesut Ozil vs. N'Golo Kante

This could be precisely the key area as Ozil will drift into spaces in front of France’s defense and it will be Kante’s job to stop him. Arsenal beat Leicester twice in the Premier League last season and Ozil had plenty of joy against the Foxes, perhaps suggesting that Kante struggled to hold him down. The Leicester midfielder was the heartbeat of their incredible title-winning team and has come from nowhere to be the heartbeat of France at EURO 2016. Kante missed the quarterfinal win over Iceland through suspension so he will be nice and fresh. Ozil has been ticking over nicely throughout the tournament despite penalty kick misses. It will be interesting to see if Ozil starts floating out wide to try and get on the ball more. If he does, Kante’s job will be done because Ozil is much more dangerous from a central position.

Jerome Boateng vs. Olivier Giroud

The former will be without his partner in crime in the heart of Germany’s defense as Hummels is suspended. That is cause for concern for Germany and with Giroud scoring three goals at EURO 2016 — including two against Iceland in the last game — he is on form. Yes, the Arsenal striker blows hot and cold but when he’s up for it, there are few who can stop his aerial ability. Boateng isn’t the most mobile as Lionel Messi brutally exposed in the UEFA Champions League two seasons ago and if Giroud drops off to link up with Antoine Griezmann, Germany could be in trouble. Expect plenty of elbows to be flying around between these two when crosses come into the box. A brutal battle awaits.

Toni Kroos vs. Paul Pogba

Kroos has undoubtedly had a fine tournament with his full range of passing on show and he’s looked at ease at the heart of Germany’s midfield. Alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, they will look to lock down the marauding talents of Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet. Pogba possesses more power than Kroos and Schweinsteiger and if he gets a chance to run at Germany’s midfield and defense then France’s entire attack begins to rhythmically slot together. Kroos is the quintessential deep-lying playmaker but when it comes to tackles flying in and aerial duels, that may be the one slight weakness in his game. Pogba has everything in his locker but will his mentality be correct? He’s dug deep and done plenty of defensive work so far for France but will Didier Deschamps unleash him to run at Germany’s bruised and battered midfield?