World Cup winners France were held to a 0-0 draw by Germany in Munich in a flat start to the new UEFA Nations League on Thursday, as Gareth Bale starred in a big win for Wales.
The heavyweight showdown at the Allianz Arena between the last two winners of the World Cup looked like the perfect game to mark the opening night of the new international competition.
However, on a rainy night in Bavaria, the meeting of the last two world champions never really sparked into life, although the French were grateful to goalkeeper Alphonse Areola for a couple of fine saves in the second half.
Areola was starting in goal in place of the injured Hugo Lloris, winning his first cap in the only change made by France coach Dider Deschamps compared to the side that started the World Cup final win over Croatia in July.
The Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper intervened brilliantly to deny Marco Reus and keep out a Matthias Ginter header, while Antoine Griezmann’s well- struck shot that was saved by
Manuel Neuer was as close as France came.
The Netherlands are the other team in Group 1 of League A, and Ronald Koeman’s team travel to Paris on Sunday, when the French will turn out at home for the first time since their glorious campaign in Russia.
The top sides in each of the four groups in League A will advance to a mini final tournament in June next year, with the overall Nations League title at stake before the Euro 2020 qualifiers begin.
Below the elite league, there is promotion and relegation and also a potential path to the European Championship for those who do not make it via the traditional qualifiers.