France have taken a giant step towards the semi-finals of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship with a commanding 3-0 victory against Germany in Guimaraes.
Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Yohan Gouffran, on his 20th birthday, and captain Antonio Mavuba made it two wins from two for René Girard's men, and moved them three points clear of their opponents after both teams had won their opening Group A matches 1-0. Understandably, given the short rest period, France brought in Francois Clerç, Lassana Diarra and Gouffran for Jérémy Berthod, Yoann Gourcuff and Jimmy Briand, Tuesday's match-winner against Portugal.
Germany were also without the scorer of their only goal against Serbia and Montenegro, as a stomach injury forced Eugen Polanski to drop to the bench along with Matthias Lehmann, Roberto Hilbert and Nando Rafael. In came Patrick Ochs, Sascha Riether, Peter Niemeyer and Alexander Meier. Despite those changes, Dieter Eilts's side were soon in their stride, Stefan Kiessling linking up superbly with Ochs before firing wide in the fourth minute.
Aside from occasional flashes of dazzling close control from Julien Faubert, France were pegged back early on. Kiessling surged forward from midfield in the 20th minute but was fouled just as he threatened. Meier took the free-kick and drew a save from Steve Mandanda. A left-foot Christian Schulz drive was met with the same result.
It was the 35th minute before France had their first serious attempt. Sinama-Pongolle fed Gouffran who held off his marker before firing low at Michael Rensing. Kiessling remained a worry but the French were edging possession and finally broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time when Malik Fathi felled Gouffran. Sinama-Pongolle stepped up and struck the free-kick beyond Rensing, perhaps with the aid of a slight deflection.
Having impressed in the first half, Kiessling fell victim to some sturdy challenges. The temperature was rising on and off the pitch - with the mercury touching the 30-degree mark according to the scoreboard in Guimaraes - and it intensified as Gouffran curled the ball into the net after Gourcuff, on for Jérémy Toulalan, had caused problems in the area with a free-kick.
Then, three minutes later, the goal of the match. Mavuba broke clear from the halfway line, dropped his shoulder and left two Germany defenders trailing before scoring with ease by slotting the ball under Rensing. France conclude their Group A campaign against Serbia and Montenegro in Braga on Sunday, while Germany will return to this stadium and hope for better fortune against the hosts.
Carlsberg Man of the Match: Antonio Mavuba