Euro 2024: Mbappe, France on a mission as favourites begin campaign

Runners-up as hosts in 2016, when they agonisingly lost the final in extra time to Portugal at a sweltering Stade de France, they have bitter memories of the last Euros three years ago

Published - June 17, 2024 04:32 am IST - Düsseldorf, Germany

France’s forward #10 Kylian Mbappe controls the ball during an MD-1 training session at Paul Janes Stadium in Duesseldorf on June 16, 2024, on the eve of their UEFA Euro 2024 Group D football match against Austria.

France’s forward #10 Kylian Mbappe controls the ball during an MD-1 training session at Paul Janes Stadium in Duesseldorf on June 16, 2024, on the eve of their UEFA Euro 2024 Group D football match against Austria. | Photo Credit: AFP

Kylian Mbappe and France have been to the last two World Cup finals but are on a mission as they begin their Euro 2024 campaign against Austria on Monday, having endured disappointment in recent editions of the continental championship.

Les Bleus won the World Cup in Russia in 2018, when a teenage Mbappe announced himself on the global stage, and only lost the 2022 final on penalties after an epic battle with Argentina in Doha.

They also won the UEFA Nations League in 2021, but the European Championship is the one title that has evaded the French since Didier Deschamps became coach in 2012.

Runners-up as hosts in 2016, when they agonisingly lost the final in extra time to Portugal at a sweltering Stade de France, they have bitter memories of the last Euros three years ago.

Deschamps's side went out of the delayed Euro 2020 in the last 16, squandering a 3-1 lead before losing on penalties to Switzerland.

Mbappe missed the decisive kick and the 25-year-old, who has just signed for Real Madrid, is now hoping to make amends by leading his country to glory in Germany.

France have been European champions twice, most recently in 2000 when a 31-year-old Deschamps was captain.

"Whatever happens, he has left an indelible mark on the French national team," Mbappe said of Deschamps in an interview with regional daily Ouest-France.

"Now if he wants to make a bit more history we need to do something this summer, because the Euros is the only thing he is missing as a coach.

"After that he will have ticked every box."

France are arguably the standout candidates to lift the trophy on July 14 in Berlin, in the same Olympic Stadium where they lost the 2006 World Cup final on penalties to Italy.

They also have the Netherlands and Poland to come in Group D after Monday's clash with a much-improved Austria in Duesseldorf.

- Finding form -

France have not fully convinced in recent outings, including a goalless draw with Canada last weekend.

Nevertheless, there are explanations for that and there is hope Les Bleus will find their best form in Germany.

Deschamps has been making tactical adjustments which always require time to be assimilated.

He has experimented slightly with Antoine Griezmann's position, but the feeling is the Atletico Madrid man will reprise the midfield role he played so brilliantly in Qatar.

There is something of a different look to France's left side, with Theo Hernandez likely to play in an advanced full-back role behind Marcus Thuram.

The Inter Milan forward is set to start on the flank with Mbappe through the middle while Olivier Giroud, now 37, is no longer a starter.

- Kante back, Saliba's chance -

Then there is the return of N'Golo Kante, now aged 33 and playing in Saudi Arabia.

He missed the 2022 World Cup with injury but was recalled by Deschamps after two years out of the fold and is set to start against Austria.

His experience, and that of Giroud, could prove crucial in a young squad featuring 11 players aged 25 or under.

"I am full of excitement, nostalgia and desire. The main objective is to have the best competition possible," said Giroud as he prepares for his last major tournament.

"The final in 2016 is still on my mind. This is the competition I am dreaming of winning."

Several French players have spoken in recent days about upcoming elections which could see the far-right win power in the country's National Assembly.

Those elections will take place during the competition and Deschamps' squad -- a majority of whom come from immigrant backgrounds -- can expect regular questions on the subject.

The coach will hope his players are not distracted by it and are instead spurred on by the desire to win and bring a divided country together.

There is no question France have the players to go all the way, beyond the electric Mbappe.

There are questions about their central defence but Arsenal's William Saliba is aiming to establish himself in the side on the back of a superb season in England.

Griezmann is inspirational and Ousmane Dembele is a nightmare for defenders on the right wing.

"We are all relaxed. Our ambitions have not changed. Just because we are calm it doesn't mean we are going to win the Euros, but we'll do everything we can," said winger Kingsley Coman.

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