Sports

Euro 2024: Mbappe benched in France vs Netherlands stalemate, Ukraine claims first victory, Austria beat Poland

In a day of mixed fortunes at Euro 2024, France named Kylian Mbappe on the substitutes’ bench for their game against the Netherlands on Friday.

Mbappe, who broke his nose in France’s opening victory against Austria, wore a protective mask as he warmed up but did not play. Coach Didier Deschamps, confident in Mbappe’s ability to participate, nevertheless chose to rest his star player, prioritising his recovery for future matches.

The match in Leipzig ended in a 0-0 draw, leaving both teams level on four points at the top of Group D.

Mbappe’s Absence Felt

The absence of Mbappe was keenly felt as both sides struggled to find the back of the net.

France, historically dominant against the Netherlands in recent encounters, missed the attacking prowess of their captain. Antoine Griezmann, standing in as captain, had several opportunities but failed to capitalise. His missed chances were a significant talking point, with his lack of finishing touch proving costly.

Griezmann’s Missed Opportunities

Without their talismanic forward, France turned to Griezmann for inspiration. The Atletico Madrid forward stung the palms of Dutch goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen from distance but squandered two glorious chances to break the deadlock.

An intricate move saw Adrien Rabiot set up Griezmann, who failed to connect with the ball on his weaker right foot. Later, Griezmann’s weak effort was turned behind by Verbruggen with the goal gaping, highlighting a frustrating night for the stand-in skipper.

The Netherlands, buoyed by an orange-clad majority in the Leipzig Stadium, nearly took advantage of French uncertainty early on.

Jeremie Frimpong’s explosive pace saw him clear on goal within the first minute, but a lack of composure allowed Mike Maignan to turn his shot behind. Despite a strong defensive display, the Dutch were left to rue a disallowed goal by Xavi Simons.

Simons fired in on the rebound after Maignan saved from Memphis Depay, but the goal was ruled out for offside, with Denzel Dumfries adjudged to be interfering with Maignan’s ability to stop the shot.

A Tight Contest Ends in a Draw

France had the better chances in the second half, with Marcus Thuram fizzing a shot just wide and Aurelien Tchouameni unable to keep his header down.

Deschamps rejected the chance to risk Mbappe for the closing stages, instead sending on Olivier Giroud and Kingsley Coman in search of a winner. Despite these changes, the game ended in a goalless draw, a result that both teams could find satisfactory given their standing in the group.

Also read: EURO 2024: Excitement builds as tournament approaches

The draw leaves France and the Netherlands level on four points, one ahead of Austria, who beat Poland 3-1 earlier on Friday. Both teams are now in a strong position to advance to the knockout stages, thanks to the tournament’s format allowing the four best third-placed finishers to progress.

Ukraine’s Emotional Triumph

While France and the Netherlands played out a stalemate, Ukraine celebrated their first win of Euro 2024 with an emotional 2-1 victory over Slovakia in Düsseldorf.

This match was particularly poignant as it marked Ukraine’s first international tournament since the Russian invasion in February 2022.

The Ukrainian players were visibly moved, some in tears, as they secured a comeback win that not only boosted their chances in the tournament but also provided a moment of national pride.

Comeback Victory

Roman Yaremchuk was the hero for Ukraine, coming off the bench to score the winning goal. Ukraine had fallen behind early when Slovakia’s Ivan Schranz opened the scoring. However, Mykola Shaparenko equalised early in the second half, setting the stage for Yaremchuk’s dramatic winner.

The goal sparked celebrations both on and off the field, with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky congratulating the team on social media, stating, “Way to go guys!” He added that the team’s victory showcased the resilience and spirit of the Ukrainian people.

“The players showed the spirit of Ukraine on the pitch and deserved the win,” said coach Serhiy Rebrov.

After a bruising 3-0 defeat by Romania in their first outing, Ukraine demonstrated significant improvement and determination. This victory moved them to second place in Group E, reviving their hopes for progression in the tournament.

Austria’s Dominance Over Poland

In Group D’s other match, Austria defeated Poland 3-1 in Berlin, pushing Poland to the brink of elimination. Despite Robert Lewandowski’s return from a thigh injury, he could not prevent his team’s defeat.

Lewandowski, who came on in the 60th minute, struggled to make an impact. Coach Michal Probierz insisted that Lewandowski was fit to play, stating, “He was fully fit and he has practised with the team.”

Austria opened the scoring through Gernot Trauner, who powered home a header from Philipp Mwene’s cross. Poland quickly responded, with Krzysztof Piatek levelling the score after half an hour, staying calm in the box to slot home a rebound.

However, Austria regained the lead after 67 minutes when Marko Arnautovic cleverly stepped over a pass, allowing Christoph Baumgartner to score. Arnautovic, Austria’s veteran captain, sealed the win with a late penalty after Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny fouled Marcel Sabitzer.

Poland’s Struggles

Poland’s second defeat of the Euro 2024 leaves them in a precarious position. Despite having a player of Lewandowski’s calibre, they have struggled to find form and cohesion. Probierz’s decision to bring Lewandowski on as a substitute when the game was level raised questions, especially given the striker’s lack of impact and subsequent booking for an arm on Philipp Lienhart.

The defeat means that Poland will be the first team eliminated from the tournament. Poland’s struggles contrast sharply with Austria’s strong performance, which saw them dominate large portions of the match and effectively manage the game.

What to Expect Next

As France and the Netherlands prepare for their final group matches against Poland and Austria respectively, both teams are likely to progress to the knockout stages. The tournament’s format, which allows the four best third-placed finishers to advance, provides a safety net for these teams.

For France, the decision to rest Mbappe could prove wise if he returns fully fit for the knockout rounds. Deschamps’ cautious approach indicates a focus on the long-term campaign rather than immediate results.

Ukraine, buoyed by their emotional victory, will look to build on their success as they aim to progress from Group E. The spirit and determination shown by the Ukrainian players reflect not only their sporting ambitions but also a broader message of resilience and hope for their country.

The drama and emotions of Euro 2024 continue to unfold, with each match bringing new stories of triumph, struggle, and hope. As teams vie for a place in the knockout stages, the tournament promises further excitement and memorable moments.

Samuel Bolaji

Samuel Bolaji holds a Master of Letters in Publishing Studies from the University of Stirling, Scotland, United Kingdom, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He is an experienced researcher, multimedia journalist, writer, and Editor. He is currently the Editor of Arbiterz.

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