"Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivé." Arise children of the fatherland, the day of glory has arrived. Those were the first lines of a magnificent rendition of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, at the bubbling cauldron of the Stade de Velodrome in Marseille on Thursday. Arise they did, on a blistering evening with frightening pace, as the hosts took on world champions Germany for a place in the final of Euro 2016.

Without N’Golo Kante as midfield anchor, France’s coach Didier Deschamps gambled on a bold 4-2-3-1 formation with Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba in front of the defence. The outright frenetic and the outrageously frantic culminated in a superb passage of play by Matuidi and Antoine Griezmann in the sixth minute. On the left channel, they combined for a one-two, releasing Griezmann on the edge of the area to breeze past a couple of German defenders with electric pace. His shot lacked pace and Manuel Neuer sprawled to his left to save.

In control but without reward

The French siege was fallacious. Germany seized total control of the match, spacing and moving with elegance and ease. They outnumbered France in the midfield, with Jonas Hector and Joshua Kimmich overlapping, and Mesut Ozil and Julian Draxler drifting inside. The French had a Kante-sized hole in the midfield. The Germans teased and stretched the opposing defence.

In truth, Germany were not weakened by their absentees, but looked even sharper and more incisive than against Italy. The French ceded up to 70 per cent of possession at times. Bastian Schweinsteiger regulated the play in midfield, connecting the dots and deciding whom to pick out. The Germans pressed and probed, often playing Kimmich in on the right.

When Les Bleus did have the ball, they looked bewildered. Griezmann sprinted forward purposelessly, the ball at his feet, drifting into a giant no-man’s land, soon flooded with Germans. And so, France were stuck in a perpetual vicious circle of defending and ceding the ball. Still the Kante hole loomed large.

Yet, miraculously, Germany did not score. The hosts finished the first half in a whirlwind. Olivier Giroud dawdled on the ball, the movement of a second-rate striker always in a self-fulfilling prophecy of sluggish execution. Benedikt Howedes came in, with the tackle of the tournament or, depending on the applicable threshold, a token intervention.

A moment of madness

Then, following a moment of madness, referee Nicola Rizzoli awarded a home advantage penalty. Inexplicably, Schweinsteiger blacked out in his 38th major tournament game, a record, lunging for the ball with his arms aloft. He hadn’t committed a capital sin, but, rather, acted like a disorientated handball player, a meek imitator of Jerome Boateng, who had given away a clumsy penalty against Italy in the quarters. Schweinsteiger’s arms were in an unnatural position, so technically Rizzoli’s decision may have been correct.

Former Uefa president and French legend Michel Platini must have sniggered and spun round in a freestyle 360 in the stands, with his curly grey hair shaking uncontrollably. In the BBC studio in Paris, Thierry Henry shuffled uncomfortably. He needed no reminder of his misdeed against the Irish back in 2009. This was footballistic injustice, but Griezmann converted the spot-kick with supreme confidence. The result was a mystifying 1-0 half-time scoreline.

The first-half assurance of a German goal had never materialised. Les Bleus underwent a metamorphosis. In the second half, Deschamps persisted with his peculiar Kante hole. Yet, seemingly, it was reduced in size and a smaller space-percolated. France had steeliness and mettle. The Germans got a bit frustrated. Thomas Muller, much more at ease in a World Cup according to the statistics, didn’t offer that focal point up front. Germany played with many attacking midfielders, but not a single striker, the fault in a perfect production line.

France discover their mettle

In the French rearguard, Samuel Umiti, whom Barcelona recently acquired for a reported €25 million, was splendid. Time after time, he won the aerial duels as Germany, in a manic fit, monopolised the ball in search of an equaliser. An honourable mention for Moussa Sissoko as well, who shored up France’s wing, with Dimitri Payet in a freer roaming role.

At the hour mark, another blow for Germany: stalwart central defender Boateng limped off, presumably with a hamstring injury. This was going to be France’s night, or so the footballing gods had decided. In the 71st minute, France’s coach unleashed Kante. A minute later, the hosts were in an unassailable 2-0 lead, a triple chain of German slapstick errors from Howedes, Kimmich and Neuer leading to a stabbed finish from Griezmann again, his sixth goal of the tournament. It was just killer instinct, preceded by an amazing flick from Pogba.

Still, the Germans did not relent. Kimmich responded with a great curler against the woodwork. In injury time, he forced a masterful, catlike save from Hugo Lloris. No matter what, German chances just flew off target, even by inches. For the world champions, there was no dismantling the blue blanket. The tide had inexorably turned – Sic transit gloria mundi. Thus passes the glory of the world.

Somehow, the best attack, playing the Italian way, out of desperation rather than design, had overcome the best defence. Not since 1958 had France defeated Germany in a major tournament. On that June day in Sweden, Just Fontaine scored four times. Raymond Kopa also got on the score sheet. That was a brilliantly gifted French team. Today, in 2016, Les Bleus are a feeble comparison, with the notable exception of Griezmann, but in a mediocre tournament they may just become mediocre champions.