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France labour and wait for second phase at Euro 2024 as Germany and Spain shine

By Paul Myers - RFI
Germany AP - Ariel Schalit
SAT, 22 JUN 2024 LISTEN
AP - Ariel Schalit

What is it with the captains of French national teams and their faces? Rugby darling Antoine Dupont had his angular visage smashed up during the World Cup last year but defied the medical predictions about his fractured cheekbone to come back valiantly and lead his muscular troops to an agonising defeat to South Africa in the quarter-finals.

Fast forward eight months and football whizz Kylian Mbappé will have to don a mask to protect a broken nose when recalled to a side seeking glory atEuro 2024.

Mbappé sustained the injury on Monday night during the closing stages of France's 1-0 win over Austria. It was feared he would sit out the tournament but tests showed he would not require immediate surgery. A red, white and blue face mask has been prepared for the Real Madrid striker.

France showed they needed the 25-year-old's nose for goal during the 0-0 draw against the Netherlands on Friday night in Leipzig.

Last year, during the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, Mbappé bagged a brace in both of France's victories over the Netherlands on their way to topping the group and pushing the Dutch into second place.

"I had two good chances," stand-in skipper Antoine Griezmann told French broadcaster M6 after Friday night's draw.

"It was a shame. Defensively we were good and tactically we were good. It's just the attackers who didn't perform."

The stalemate leaves France with four points and second in Group D behind the Netherlands who also have four points but lead due to goals scored. Austria are third with three points following a 3-1 win over Poland on Friday.

The four-point tally should be enough to send France into the last-16 as one of the four best third-placed teams.

But to be sure of advancing automatically, France require at least a point from their final game against Poland on Tuesday in Dortmund.

Such strugglesfor a team that sauntered into the tournament as the highest ranked outfit inthe Fifa lists and vaunted due to the apparent riches at the disposal of coach Didier Descahamps.

Change

But then England – runners up at Euro 2020 – went into the competition feted. Or was that fated?

A middling 1-0 win against Serbia to kick off their Group C campaign was followed by a dismal performance five days later in the 1-1 draw against Denmark.

Suddenly, Real Madrid wonder boy Jude Bellingham – scorer of the winner against Serbia – and hot-shot Harry Kane – author of 44 goals with Bayern Munich last season – looked quite dreary.

"We didn't press the ball with enough intensity and we kept conceding possession too cheaply," said England boss Gareth Southgate after the game.

"And when you do those two things, it's hard to have control in the game. So it led to an anxious performance the longer the game went on. 

"We understand that that's got to be better if we want to progress to the stages of the tournament that everybody is expecting and delivering what we need to deliver."

Highlight

The bright spot for Southgate and the hordes of England fans is that with four points after two games, they should advance to the last-16 with a a draw against Slovenia.

Denmark, with two points from their two games, missed a chance to pick off a team clunking through the gears from leaden to lumpen.

"I can't say that we're disappointed but it's a shame," lamented Denmark boss Kasper Hjulmand. "There was a result that we could have gotten.

"I can't say we're disappointed because we did well. We had a good feeling about this game and I think we played well."

The draw leaves Group C finely poised for the next round of games on 25 June. Serbia and Slovenia can also make it automatically into the last-16.

But for pre-tournament favourites England and France, it will be scraping rather than with the pomp and circumstance displayed so far by hosts Germany and the Spaniards.

Praise

Head coach Julian Nagelsmann appears to have injected some fibre into Die Mannschaft – as the Germany national team are nicknamed.

They annihilated Scotland 5-1 in the opening game of the tournament on 14 June in Munich and were too savvy for Hungary five days later. 

Bayern Munich star Jamal Musiala scored his second goal of the tournament to lead the race for the "golden boot". But it was not only his marksmanship that drew praise from Nagelsmann.

"He has played brilliantly in both games," said Nagelsmann. "Whenever he has the ball, I think every situation or offensive proposition is pretty tough for the opponent to defend."

Onwards they go in fine fettle. Just like the Spaniards who, after sweeping past Croatia 3-0 in the opening game of Group B, added defending champions Italy to their list of victims to make light of the idea of a group of death.

Angst free zone

"I am delighted and proud," crowed Spain coach Luis de la Fuente after the 1-0 win in Gelsenkirchen.

"Not only for the result for beating a great team but for the way we won the match, for everything that we showed.

"But as you progress, obviously the rivals start to know you," he added. "They start to be more competitive. I said it when I arrived that I was convinced that there was no better team than us.

"And I still believe it's true, as long as we continue to behave and work as we are."

Italy boss, Luciano Spalletti, who steered Napoli to the Serie A title in 2023, was as reflective as he was munificent in defeat.

"The game told us they were a team and we failed to be," he groaned. "They deserved to win."

The 65-year-old added: "We simply weren't as agile as them, so there's not really any point talking about other aspects of the gamre because that's the basis of everything.

"You can't make the choices with the same speed, with the same reaction time when you've not got the legs."

For France and their legions, the region of concern is further up the human frame. 

Mbappé will continue to nurse his nose, his team still with work to do in order to advance.

And there's simply no masking that fact.

Which team do you think has the higher chance of winning the 2024 elections?

Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024

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