Soccer-France stay on course while not risking Mbappe

By Thomson Reuters Jun 21, 2024 | 5:04 PM

By Andrew Cawthorne

HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters) – France missed Kylian Mbappe in a wasteful display against the Netherlands but keeping their main man on the bench rather than risk him so soon after a broken nose may prove clever if he returns to help Les Bleus go deep into Euro 2024.

Mbappe, who had run riot against the Dutch in the past with six goals in five games, was ready to come on with a mask.

But he remained an unused substitute in the tournament’s first 0-0 draw – a disappointing spectacle given the two sides’ pedigree but a result that leaves both on four points and virtually through to the knockout stage.

In the absence of Mbappe, 33-year-old Antoine Griezmann took the captain’s armband and also occupied his attacking space.

But he failed to convert a stream of chances, twice getting the ball caught under his feet when right in front of goal.

France enjoyed 58% possession, completed 614 passes to the Netherlands’ 353, and had double the number of goal attempts at 16. But coach Didier Deschamps may not worry too much about the team’s profligacy, given their control of large periods of the game and the likelihood of Mbappe’s return.

Whether the forward is rested for the last group game against Poland remains to be seen.

When he is back on the pitch, Mbappe, 25, will have a point to prove: he has never scored at a Euros tournament and in 2021 his penalty was saved in a shootout with Switzerland which saw France exit at the last 16 stage.

By contrast, he has 12 goals at World Cups.

While Griezmann missed a header, several shots and those couple of bundled close-range opportunities, Marcus Thuram also fluffed his chances and veteran Olivier Giroud made little impact when he came on in the second half.

France looked lethargic at times, despite dominating possession, and were perhaps lucky to come across a Dutch side lacking any real threat up front to match the quality of their Virgil van Dijk-marshalled defence.

The Netherlands were dismayed, however, when Xavi Simons thought he had scored, only to see the goal disallowed because Denzel Dumfries was deemed to be interfering with play as he stood offside next to goalkeeper Mike Maignan.

At times, it almost looked like both sides were happy to settle for a draw, trusting that four points would be enough.

With already-eliminated Poland to come next for France, while the Dutch have a trickier task against Austria, Didier Deschamps’ side look the likelier of the two heavyweights to top Group D and ensure a better draw in the knockout stage.

(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Ken Ferris)