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France expected to top Euro 2024 group but watch out for Austria

France are inevitably the favourites to top Group D at Euro 2024 but suggestions they will cruise through the first round might be wide of the mark given the presence of the Netherlands and a resurgent Austria in their section.

The French are leading contenders to win the trophy but there are legitimate questions to be asked about the current condition of the 2022 World Cup runners-up.

A home friendly defeat by Germany in March and a slightly fortuitous win over Chile a few days later suggested that Didier Deschamps’ team need not necessarily be feared, AFP reports.

Kylian Mbappe’s form is a concern to some extent, given he was not a regular for Paris Saint-Germain in the final months of the season and his departure from the club, and move to Real Madrid, have clearly been a distraction.

Not that Deschamps necessarily agrees. “You don’t think he’s in form? He just scored 44 goals in a season,” he said of Mbappe last week.

There are also questions to be answered about the form and fitness of Deschamps’ defensive options — not least Dayot Upamecano — while France are hoping key midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni fully recovers in time from the foot injury which ruled him out of the Champions League final.

The format of a 24-team Euros — the four best third-placed teams as well as the top two in each group advance to the last 16 — makes it hard to imagine France failing to reach the knockout phase.

Any serious problems for Les Bleus are unlikely to arrive until later, and they are eager to make up for what happened at the last two Euros played under Deschamps — they lost the 2016 final to Portugal on home soil and went out on penalties to Switzerland in the last 16 in 2021.

The Netherlands should be the next strongest side in the group, but defeats home and away to France in qualifying indicate a gap between those teams.

The Dutch were quarter-finalists at the last World Cup, since when Ronald Koeman has returned for a second spell in charge as the successor to Louis van Gaal.

They will forever be associated with the iconic side that won the 1988 Euros, starring Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, but they have not won a knockout tie at the finals of the tournament since 2004.

Koeman does boast a core of players of the highest quality, including Virgil van Dijk, Frenkie de Jong, Jeremie Frimpong, and 21-year-old midfielder Xavi Simons.

De Jong must shake off an ankle injury, however, and the Oranje could do with getting off to a good start against Poland in Hamburg on June 16.

– Lewandowski leads Poland –

Poland came through the play-offs to qualify by beating Wales on penalties, having notably lost to Albania and Moldova in their group.

Their qualifying campaign was rescued by Michal Probierz after he was promoted from his role as Under-21 coach to succeed sacked former Portugal boss Fernando Santos.

Inevitably Poland still rely heavily on Robert Lewandowski, who is 35 now and
is surely going to his last major tournament.

There are plenty of reliable performers in their squad, including goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and midfielder Piotr Zielinski, but they look the weakest link in the group.

In contrast, Austria approach the tournament in fine fettle, even if star player David Alaba has not recovered from a ruptured cruciate knee ligament.

Revitalised under the management of Ralf Rangnick, Austria finished just behind Belgium in their qualifying group and have scored some remarkable recent friendly wins, beating Germany 2-0 and Turkey 6-1.

Those performances led to an approach by Bayern Munich for Rangnick, which he turned down.

“Our full concentration is on the European Championship,” Rangnick said. “We will do everything we can to get as far as possible.”

Austria, whose squad features a large contingent based in the German Bundesliga, kick off against France in Duesseldorf on June 17.