5 Things We Learnt from Group D at the Euros
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5 Things We Learnt from Group D at the Euros

25/06/24 19:03

After a breathless final matchday, which saw a 3-2 thriller between group winners Austria and underachievers Netherlands, and a 1-1 draw between France and Poland in which Mbappe and Lewandowski both started, here are 5 things we learnt from Group D at Euro 2024.

  1. France Need Mbappe

The difference between France with Mbappe and France without Mbappe is night and day. Starting for the first time since breaking his nose against Austria, it was clear he was far from his best self when facing Poland. Despite this, he was still by far and away the best player on the pitch, always looking to craft openings and make the defense splitting play he spotted 3 seconds before anyone else. With the high-risk, high reward way he plays, there are always moments of brilliance that come from him, even when he is having a bad game.

With him on the pitch, a couple of firsts were achieved for France: Mbappe’s first goal at a Euros tournament (breaking the “Mbappe curse”), and France’s first goal scored by one of their players. Quite astonishing that it took until France’s third game of the tournament to achieve both of these, but they will certainly feel like a weight has been taken off their backs.

Even with Mbappe seemingly back for the rest of the tournament, France have to improve if they are to live up to pre-tournament labels of favorites. Poland shut them out for an entire half, and with the quality of opposition only increasing from here on out, France and Didier Deschamps need to work out a strategy which will consistently cause problems for defenses, as their current approach seems predictable and tame. Room for improvement.

  1. Netherlands Midfield Dilemma

Football fans know that something is seriously wrong when a substitution is made after 34 minutes. When Ronald Koeman hooked PSV midfielder Joey Veerman, who had looked edgy and nervous all the way up to that point against a high tempo Austrian press, it was an admission of failure, and an acceptance that something had to change in order for the Netherlands to try and take something from the game. Xavi Simons came on in Veerman's place, and while the Netherlands ended up losing 3-2 in a match of the tournament contender, there was certainly improvement after the change was made following a lifeless opening half hour or so..

Unfortunately for Veerman, it’s not the first that the Dutch midfield frailties have been pointed out. After a less than convincing performance from Veerman and PSV teammate Jerdy Schouten against Poland, in which they scraped a 2-1 win, Oranje fans immediately took to social media to mourn the absence of usual starters Teun Koopmeiners and Frenkie De Jong. Those claims have only been further substantiated by their performance against Austria, in which they were generally second best and their only real threat came on the counter attack.

Tijjani Reijnders dropped into a deeper midfield role against France, replacing Veerman, and this worked to great effect, in a performance that could arguably be labeled as the best of the nations Euros so far. It may be time to consider repeating the trick, as with an anxious midfield, very few teams get very far …

  1. Austria Can Shock Big Sides.

While there were obvious flaws in the Dutch performance from the very start, Austria have to receive huge praise for the way they managed the game. Despite going ahead twice only to be pegged back, they never let their heads drop, and every time they conceded, they seemed to kick off with more energy than in the previous passage of play.

Ralf Rangnick’s high pressing ethos was a nightmare for the Dutch backline, who were forced into panicky, rash decisions at times, and the 3-2 scoreline was fully deserved. Marcel Sabitzer and Romano Schmid were both particularly impressive, getting their names on the scoresheet while also epitomizing the way the Austrian team try to play, showing tenacity and desire both with and without the ball.

The squad appears to have great chemistry, and they have seamlessly adopted Rangnick’s exciting ideology. Such a committed and well-drilled team has the potential to pose a big obstacle for any one of the favorites in the competition. I for one am certainly making sure I tune into Austria’s knockout games …

  1. Poland May Have Qualified Under Different Circumstances.

I feel a little sorry for Poland. Blunted from the start after Lewandowski’s unfortunate thigh injury in the warm up games, they could only do the best with what was available to them, and even in his absence, they didn’t put in a single bad performance. In their downfall was their lack of conversion when big chances fell their way.

It seems obvious to say, but had Lewandowski been on the pitch for 270 minutes instead of just over 90, then Poland would likely have scored 2 or 3 more goals, a tally which would have put them right in contention to qualify. This was underlined by Lewandowski scoring an albeit retaken penalty in his only start of the tournament.

It could well be the Barcelona forwards last major tournament, but there are exciting things ahead for this talented young Poland squad. They just need to find a quality replacement up front and they have the potential to upset some big names in world football.

  1. A Fantastic Group

This may seem like more a matter of opinion, but this group has been fascinating from start to finish. Every game, except the headline match of Netherlands vs France, lived up to expectation, and every team can leave their separate ways with their heads held high for one reason or another. Poland showed great character in pushing the Netherlands and France to the very brink after a brave defeat to Austria. France, despite question marks over their performance are through to the knockout stages with a top two finish in the group. Austria shocked Europe by topping a group which seemed to have only one realistic finishing order. And Netherlands may not have lived up to expectations yet, but will always have that dramatic Wout Weghorst winner to take away from the first game with Poland. Looking ahead, it seems inevitable that whoever the qualifying nations face next, their opposition are in for a rude awakening.

Benji Kosartiyer
Journalist
Harry Pascoe

Football Writer

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