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Party atmosphere as rivals France and Germany face off for spot in final

Rémy Gabalda, AFP file picture | The winning team will face Portugal in the Euro 2016 finals

More than 15,000 Germany fans led the latest Euro 2016 invasion of Marseille on Thursday ahead of their country's key semi-final clash against France, while excitement built in the host nation.


After Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal beat Wales 2-0 to seal their place in Sunday's final, attention now turns to see which of the two tournament favourites can reach the Stade de France in Paris for Sunday's final.

Football fever rose as temperatures hit 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) in the Mediterranean city. But after the trauma of clashes between Russian and England fans earlier in the tournament, German and French fans packed bars and cafes in a calm atmosphere.

Many cars in Marseille were decked out in French tricolour flags with children, their faces painted, wearing France caps.

"Day of glory," trumpeted the front page of L'Equipe newspaper over a picture of the French team congratulating star midfielder Paul Pogba on scoring a goal.

Neither country has announced a team for the match, which starts at 1900 GMT, but Germany's Joachim Loew said that captain Bastian Schweinsteiger was fit to start after an injury scare in the penalty shootout win over Italy.

"In a game like this, his experience is very valuable and, in any case, he will start," Loew said Wednesday.

Misers and hot shots

The European Championship hosts will be looking to beat Germany, the World Cup holders, in a major tournament for the first time in 58 years.

Germany have triumphed in three World Cup encounters since then, the last in the 2014 quarter-finals. Their most famous meeting was the 1982 semi-final when France's Patrick Battiston had to be revived by medics on the pitch after a brutal clash with German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher.

Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer, the most miserly goalkeeper in the tournament, and Atletico Madrid striker Griezmann as leading scorer could hold the key to their latest encounter however.

Griezmann scored two of his four goals in France's impressive 5-2 quarter-final win over Iceland.

Neuer has conceded only one goal in regulation time in five games -- a spot-kick against Italy in the quarter-finals, a tie Germany won on penalties.

"We need to score goals. This is a team that doesn't concede a lot of goals," said France coach Didier Deschamps.

"Everyone talks about their attack, but they know how to defend," he added.

Loew is aware of the French threat.

"We are going to have to be compact and close down the space in defence," he said.

"France are going to be the toughest opponents we have had in the tournament until now."

Deschamps has no injury problems and welcomes back midfielder N'Golo Kante and defender Adil Rami to contend for places after both served suspensions against Iceland.

With many French fans looking back to the 1982 battle, Deschamps said: "We can't change past history, but we've got our own page to write."

Apart from the return of Schweinsteiger, Loew gave no other team details and he faces tough choices.

Centre-back Mats Hummels picked up a yellow card and is suspended. Striker Mario Gomez and midfielder Sami Khedira picked up injuries which ruled them out and made Schweinsteiger's presence even more essential.

Bayern man Thomas Mueller, normally a regular source of goals for Germany, has yet to score at the tournament.

But Mueller said reaching the final and getting a chance to add the Euro trophy to the World Cup title won in 2014 is all that matters.

"Reaching that goal is what drives me on. I haven't had that many chances here and the ones I have missed were by a matter of centimetres.

"I'm not driving myself crazy about it," he said.


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