World champions France never hit top form and had third-choice keeper Alphonse Areola to thank for a 0-0 draw against Germany in their inaugural Nations League game on Thursday, their first appearance since lifting the World Cup.
On a rainy night, Germany won back some respect with a battling performance after their shock World Cup group- stage exit in Russia, their earliest in 80 years in the tournament.
The French looked to be nursing a post-World Cup hangover, lacking their usual speed and creativity, and but for Areola’s key saves in the second half the final scoreline would have been different in the League A, Group 1 game.
“It was a tight match and we were better sometimes and at other times they were better,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.
“Obviously the players are not at the peak of their fitness at the moment but they gave it (their) all.
“Our goal was to win the game but we played a 0-0 in Germany which is still a good result.”
His Germany counterpart Joachim Loew breathed a sigh of relief, knowing a slip-up against France would only have piled on more pressure.
“This game was obviously a special one for us and what was important was the way we played,” he said.
“The team did it well.
“We could have even scored the odd goal against the world champions. Our biggest issue in the last three days has been the defence and today we laid a good foundation.”
Unusually, the Germans started with four central defenders and with Joshua Kimmich switching from right back to a holding midfield position, as Loew tried to strike a better balance between attack and defence than his team had done in Russia.
Deschamps on the other hand fielded his World Cup final team including Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba, apart from injured keeper Hugo Lloris, with Areola making his debut.
Neither side were eager to risk much, with a chance apiece in the first half.
Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer did well to save a Griezmann effort just past the hour but Areola made the saves of the evening, first punching Marco Reus’ close-range effort wide.
The 25-year-old, who started because both Lloris and second choice Steve Mandanda were injured, denied Mats Hummels, tipped a Thomas Mueller chip over the bar and stopped Matthias Ginter scoring from close range to spare his team’s blushes.
The Netherlands are the other side in the group.
The Nations League, brainchild of European soccer body UEFA, aims to boost interest in internationals, which are seen by clubs and fans as disruptive to the domestic football season.
To be held every two years, it features all 55 of Europe’s national teams divided into four divisions split into four groups, with games to be played between September and November.