France's best chance to beat Germany
Les Bleus will never get a better chance of ending nearly 60 years of hurt against Germany
GERMANY v FRANCE
(Tomrorow, 2.50am, Singtel TV Ch 142 & StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)
France delivered 90 minutes of flawless football, the most devastating at the tournament.
The performance stretched across two different games, but let's not split hairs.
The hosts' second half against the Republic of Ireland and their first-half against Iceland were an intoxicating mix of attacking swagger and defensive resilience.
At half-time inside the Stade de France, the whispers spread through the cavernous stadium faster than a Mexican Wave, the confidence unmistakable.
For the first time, the French believed.
They already had the T-shirts. Allez Les Bleus. Go The Blues.
The tops are proving to be the favoured sartorial choice across France. But until the quarter-finals, they were a fashion statement, rather than a literal one.
The French followed their country by default. But they didn't really believe.
When the fourth goal went in against Iceland, however, something changed. Qualified support that had bordered on apathy gave way to real hope.
La Marseillaise had never been sung louder or lustier, the conviction in the crowd and later on in the streets was unmistakable.
They dared to say out loud what was once unthinkable.
Didier Deschamps' swashbucklers might actually win Euro 2016.
The only thorn in the side of every continental and global power with silverware aspirations, is that infernal winning machine.
Germany. It's always Germany.
The team that still win when defences are revised from four to three, when performances are poor and the penalties even poorer, they still prevail. They outlast. They endure.
Winning isn't a mentality, it's a way of life. It's routine, part of the subconscious, like breathing. Germans thrive on the oxygen of victory.
And they haven't succumbed to the French at a tournament since 1958, almost 60 years of hurt for one of Europe's biggest power blocs.
The statistic impresses historians and intimidates pessimists, but Les Bleus have nothing to fear.
Germany hinted at progress against Slovakia, but regressed when the Italians came calling.
Loew's back three was just about vindicated, but only a few farcical spot-kicks from the Azzurri spared him the vitriol back home for his defensive caution.
In truth, Germany lapsed in what was arguably the dullest, tactical stalemate of the quarter-finals.
Loew dropped his most potent threat (Julian Draxler) in favour of the kind of regimented mechanical approach usually associated with his predecessors.
Draxler should return to face France, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who trained yesterday, might be back too.
But Murphy's Law has already intervened, as if punishing Loew for his uncharacteristic conservatism.
Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez are out through injury and star defender Mats Hummels is suspended. Deschamps' men are at full strength.
The last time these nations met in November, three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Stade de France.
It's a nightmare that never really goes away, and nor should it.
But the Iceland victory was a definite turning point, when the focus was only on the football, when thoughts turned to an unexpected semi-final date, when Allez Les Bleus became something more than just a slogan on a T-shirt.
It was the moment when France began to fully embrace and enjoy the victory for what it was, a chance to proudly acknowledge that both the team and the nation had made it this far, unbowed and unscathed.
The fact that the French are also flying high, piloted by the delightful Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet, and up against a weakened Germany side only adds to the optimism.
Les Bleus are now obligated to meet the demands of an expectant nation. France is finally ready to party.