No Mbappe, no goal but not panic stations either for France | Football News - Hindustan Times
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No Mbappe, no goal but not panic stations either for France

ByDhiman Sarkar
Jun 22, 2024 04:38 PM IST

The first 0-0 draw of the European championship came in the 21st game of the competition

Midway through the first half, he first appeared on television screens. Arms crossed, Kylian Mbappe was seen sitting deep in his red seat in the dug-out. Aware of the camera on him – it has been a way of life since he began leaving defenders trailing in his wake as a teenager embarking on a career so rich in promise that he had registered Kylian Mbappe as a trademark while at Monaco – the France captain’s face gave nothing away. It was the same when he zoomed into view at the start of the second half.

France's forward #10 Kylian Mbappe reacts after a draw in the UEFA Euro 2024 Group D football match between the Netherlands and France(AFP)
France's forward #10 Kylian Mbappe reacts after a draw in the UEFA Euro 2024 Group D football match between the Netherlands and France(AFP)

With the teams on four points after Friday’s 0-0 draw, the first in 21 games of the 2024 European championship, France and Netherlands do not have too much cause for worry. France play Poland, who have been eliminated, on Tuesday knowing they need to avoid defeat to progress from group D. The Netherlands-Austria match, at the same time, should be a humdinger, given that both can qualify and given how Austria sparkled against Poland on Friday.

But the records will also show this was the seventh game France did not win that Mbappe had not started. For a team fizzing with attacking talent that is an anomaly. Through the night in Leipzig - where France had limped to a 1-1 draw against South Korea and, after his second booking of the 2006 World Cup, Zinedine Zidane had taken out his frustration on a change room door which still has his stud marks – they had done most of the things right. Except the thing that matters most in a game of football.

Antoine Griezmann tested young Bert Verbruggen in Netherlands’ goal, Marcus Thuram bending to make room for the shot. With 11 goals in the first week coming from shots outside the box, it was a fair call. Then, Thuram timed his run to perfection to meet Jules Koundé’s delivery but shanked the shot.

In the 64th minute, France encapsulated all that was good in their attacking play with a five-player move that ended with Griezmann’s shot on the turn being fended away by Verbruggen sticking a leg out. During a spell of sustained pressure, Aurélien Tchouaméni found Thuram who relayed the ball to Ousmane Dembélé, who had shifted in from the right, with a smart back-heel. Dembélé was blocked but the ball went to N’Golo Kanté who had found Griezmann.

On either side of that move, Adrien Rabiot showed what France missed. Why he did not shoot in the 14th minute, trying to find Griezmann instead, will bewilder long after the European championship has left Germany. Lovely coordination with Thuram had got Rabiot into a position from where shooting should have been the obvious option. Again in the 88th, after a good piece of skill down the left-inside channel, Rabiot, four goals in 45 internationals and five last term for Juventus, looked for Kingsley Coman when he could have gone solo.

It may or may not have conveyed a lack of confidence but it sure did show France will need to be more clinical. Griezmann, the stand-in skipper, said “it will come” if they “keep a cool head.” Coach Didier Deschamps did not mask his disappointment “with our lack of efficiency in front of goal.” France had 15 shots, three on target.

Can France find a way? Can they do what Portugal did against them in the final of the 2016 European championship? Injury had taken Cristiano Ronaldo out early but Portugal had grown into the match and won their only continental title with Eder’s 109th minute goal. It’s far from panic stations – let’s not forget France almost managed to get the job done without Karim Benzema in the last World Cup – and Deschamps could give this frontline another match on Tuesday to improve its efficiency.

The shot that did go in came from a player with intricate weaves in his hair and “Xavi” on his back. Xavi Simons, 21, was playing at home and looked like being close to tears at being denied his moment of glory. After three minutes of consultation, Simons’s drive from distance in the 69th minute was ruled out because Denzel Dumfries was deemed to be interfering with play.

“I think Dumfries is offside, that’s true. But he isn’t disturbing the goalkeeper, and when that doesn’t happen it’s a legal goal in my opinion. And you need five minutes to check it because it’s so difficult? I don’t understand it,” said Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman. Deschamps, understandably, had a different take.

Both teams ended with targetmen on the pitch but neither Olivier Giroud nor Wout Weghorst could influence the scoreline. Had Netherlands won, it would have vindicated Koeman’s plan to soak in pressure and test France with his flying Dutchmen of a forward line. Jeremie Frimpong, Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo stretched Mike Maignan intermittently but aided by another masterclass from Kante in midfield, France’s defence coped well. As did the backline led by Virgil van Dijk. With both sides having quality attackers, it would bode well for France and Netherlands that backline emerged with flying colours even if the frontline did not.

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