Germany’s bid for fresh start thwarted by France in 0-0 draw

MUNICH (AP) — Germany’s bid for a fresh start after the debacle of its World Cup defense was frustrated by France goalkeeper Alphonse Areola as their UEFA Nations League opener finished 0-0 on Thursday.

Areola, making his international debut in place of injured captain Hugo Lloris, produced a host of saves in the second half, but Germany will take encouragement after dominating all but a short period of the game.

“That was a first step. We did what we wanted to do well,” said Toni Kroos, who was honored beforehand as Germany’s footballer of the year.

Joachim Loew’s side was looking to atone for its first-round World Cup exit and made a cautious start against the new world champion. The coach had indicated changes beforehand, yet he left his three new call-ups on the bench.

A change was discernible on the pitch, however, where Germany’s attacking tendencies were restrained.

In contrast to what he called an “almost arrogant way of playing,” Loew had his side line up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with four players that started as central defenders in his back four.

“We decided beforehand to keep a clean sheet whatever happened. It’s about earning back the credit that we lost in the summer,” Thomas Mueller said.

Timo Werner produced Germany’s only effort of note in the first half, which was gathered easily by Areola. The Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper then showed fine reflexes despite the falling rain to deny Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Mueller and Matthias Ginter after the break.

Germany might have picked an easier opponent with which to make a new start. Loew’s team failed to beat France in their previous three meetings, while the last win was a nervy 1-0 in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals.

France coach Didier Deschamps named the same team that defeated Croatia in the World Cup final – with the exception of Areola – but his side appeared lethargic and didn’t display the same urgency as the hosts.

Loew, under pressure after deciding to stay on following the World Cup, seemed tense on the sideline as he watched his team probing the French defense.

France came closest to breaking the deadlock before halftime, when the visitors started playing with flair.

Kylian Mbappe produced a spectacular midair flick to send the ball on, and the PSG star looked most likely to spark the game to life.

Hummels showed where German priorities lay with a no-nonsense block to stop Antoine Griezmann. The Bayern Munich defender brought the ball forward before playing it on in midfield, evoking memories of Germany great Franz Beckenbauer doing the same in the 1970s, and was rewarded with a round of applause from appreciative supporters.

The second half was more open. Kroos, who impressed with 100 percent passing accuracy in the first half, received whistles from fans when he failed to reward Werner’s run with a ball in behind the French defense. Instead he played it back, perhaps a sign of Germany’s new caution.

It was the type of inviting run favored by Mesut Ozil. The Arsenal playmaker retired from the German team in July amid accusations of racism following the furor over his pre-World Cup photo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ilkay Gundogan, who also posed for the photos with Erdogan, was given a mostly warm welcome when he came on with 25 minutes remaining. There were jeers, but fewer than before.

The Netherlands is with Germany and France in their Nations League group of three. The winner will go on to compete against the other group winners from League A for a four-team mini-tournament, the Nations League Finals, in June 2019. The bottom team in each group will be relegated to League B.