Mbappe's return fails to mask France shortcomings at Euro 2024

 

Kylian Mbappe
France's forward #10 Kylian Mbappe, wearing a band-aid after breaking his nose during his country's opening win against Austria, attends a training session during the UEFA Euro 2024 Football Championship, at the Home Deluxe Arena Stadium in Paderborn, western Germany, on June 19, 2024.

The French are through to the last 16 after emerging unbeaten from the first round, but Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Poland in Dortmund meant they finished second in Group D behind Austria.


Ironically, Austria are the only team the 2022 World Cup runners-up have managed to beat so far at the competition, as they followed their 1-0 victory over Ralf Rangnick's men with a 0-0 draw against the Netherlands and then an insufficient display in being held by the group's bottom side.


There are consequences for that, as Les Bleus now find themselves in what looks to be the wrong half of a lop-sided draw in the knockout rounds.


Next up is a tie on Monday in Duesseldorf, scene of Mbappe's nose break against Austria.


That match will be against the runners-up in a tight Group E, whose identity will be determined later on Wednesday and could be any one of Belgium, Romania, Slovakia or Ukraine.


However, the path to the final looks especially murky after that, with the possibility of a quarter-final against Portugal and then a last-four tie against Spain or Germany.


France have been the best European team at the last two World Cups, winning the trophy in 2018 and losing on penalties to Argentina in the final 18 months ago.


They do not look like the best side on the continent right now, which is a problem for a nation hoping to win the European Championship for the third time, and first since 2000.


Mbappe returned against Poland after missing the Netherlands match due to his broken nose. Playing with a protective face mask, he converted a second-half penalty for his first ever goal at a Euros.


Where have goals gone?

It was his 13th goal for France at a major tournament, putting him level with Just Fontaine who scored all of his at the 1958 World Cup, and behind only the 14 of Michel Platini.


Antoine Griezmann has not been in his best form and was left out of France's starting line-up against Poland

Antoine Griezmann has not been in his best form and was left out of France's starting line-up against Poland © KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

But Mbappe's goal was not enough to beat Poland as Robert Lewandowski replied with a spot-kick of his own.


France scored 16 goals in seven matches at the last World Cup, then netted 29 in eight qualifiers for the Euros, albeit 17 of those came against Gibraltar.


However, they have failed to score a single goal themselves in open play so far at this tournament, beating Austria thanks to an own goal and drawing a blank against the Dutch before Mbappe's penalty against Poland.


Coach Didier Deschamps nevertheless pointed out that his team were often thwarted against Poland by goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski, who was named man of the match.


"I have full confidence in our attackers," insisted midfielder Eduardo Camavinga. "We need them, and they have always shown up in the past."


Above all, France can go forward into the knockout rounds in the knowledge that their defence looks secure, with Lewandowski's penalty the only goal they have conceded so far.


"The team spirit is there, so is the solidity, and we are creating chances," said Deschamps, and only Germany have had more attempts on goal than the French.


"Maybe other teams have shown greater potential, and the fact we are not scoring goals has limited us.


"Some groups might not have been too difficult, but our group really was. Now we can have a little break which will do us good, and then we move on to the last 16.


"The impressions left after the first round are not always the same later on. Our objective was to qualify. We have done that, and now it is only big teams who are left."


For France to keep going from here, though, Deschamps will notably need to get Antoine Griezmann back playing at his best –- the forward with 132 caps was dropped against Poland, which is a rarity.


And he will especially be hoping that his team starts scoring, as captain Mbappe gets used to his mask and attempts to lead the team through the knockout rounds.

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