France eye strong start against Austria in pursuit of Euro title

France and Austria are joined in Group D by Netherlands and Poland

By Reuters

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French forward Kylian Mbappe during a training session. — AFP
French forward Kylian Mbappe during a training session. — AFP

Published: Sun 16 Jun 2024, 7:37 PM

Last updated: Sun 16 Jun 2024, 7:38 PM

After a shock last 16 exit from Euro 2020 and finishing runners-up as hosts in 2016, France can do themselves a big favour with a decisive win against an in-form Austria on Monday to stamp their authority on the tournament early on.

Les Bleus have won just about everything in football - several times over - but the European Championship has eluded France for more than two decades, with manager Didier Deschamps taking his second crack at becoming the first man to win the World Cup and Euros as both player and coach.

Austria would typically be no trouble for France but German manager Ralf Rangnick has led a transformation this past two years, with his side imbued with confidence having lost only once in their last 16 matches.

France's top goalscorer Olivier Giroud at 37 is playing in his last Euros and said a strong early start in Duesseldorf on Monday could ease some of the pressure in a tournament with quality opposition at every step. Austria have won only one of their last 10 matches against France.

"We tend to say that it is not a decisive match, but it is an important match," Giroud said on Friday.

"It can put you in a good position and once again manage the last two matches better ... by losing this first match, you are obliged almost to win the other two."

Some commentators argue the biggest threat to France's chances in Germany is themselves, which was evident when they exited Euro 2020 in the round of 16 on penalties after surrendering a two-goal lead late on to Switzerland.

While much of the pre-tournament buzz has focused on the attacking riches of a strong England side, France are also favourites, a tag Giroud said should not weigh heavy.

"This must not torment us, it must give us confidence. But not too much," he said.

"We are alert and we know that the level will go up another notch in this competition from Monday, so we will have to be ready."

France were uninspiring in pre-tournament games and Lucas Hernandez being ruled out of the tournament means Deschamps will need to be creative in selecting his defence.

A bout of flu in the team has caused some jitters, with lethal forward Kylian Mbappe among those briefly absent from training last week, though back on Saturday and expected to figure against Austria, where he is seeking his first European Championship goal.

France and Austria are joined in Group D by Netherlands and Poland.

Rangnick has won plaudits for astute tactics and a heavy focus on attack and is expected to stick to his trademark high pressing and counter-attacking that could make things uncomfortable for France.

"We know their style, it's a very solid team," France forward Marcus Thuram said on Saturday.

"We're going to have to get out of their pressing."

Austrian defender Philipp Lienhart said a tough match was ahead but his team was not out to defend the game.

"We have to be very alert because the players are so good," he said. "But we definitely will not hide."


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