Berliner Tageblatt - France begin Euro 2024 bid after Slovakia stun Belgium

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France begin Euro 2024 bid after Slovakia stun Belgium
France begin Euro 2024 bid after Slovakia stun Belgium / Photo: © AFP

France begin Euro 2024 bid after Slovakia stun Belgium

Kylian Mbappe and France were set to start their Euro 2024 campaign against Austria on Monday after Slovakia inflicted a surprise 1-0 defeat on Belgium and Romania beat Ukraine 3-0 in their opening match at the tournament.

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France, the runners-up at the 2022 World Cup, are one of the standout contenders for European Championship glory in Germany and were due to face a much-improved Austria side in Monday's late match in Duesseldorf at 1900 GMT.

Aiming to win a first European crown since 2000, Les Bleus will also face the Netherlands and Poland in a potentially tricky Group D, and their build-up to the game has been overshadowed by discussions of politics rather than football.

Mbappe's pre-game press conference was largely given over to questions about upcoming elections in France, which will take place during the competition and threaten to see the far-right National Rally become the biggest party.

"Today we can all see that extremists are very close to winning power and we have the opportunity to choose the future of our country," Mbappe said on Sunday.

"Kylian Mbappe is against extremes and against divisive ideas. We have the opportunity to choose the future of our country. That is a very important task."

The French team must hope such talk spurs them on to success, but a slip-up against Austria will raise questions about the team's focus.

Whoever wins Monday's game will join the Netherlands on three points, with the Dutch having beaten Poland 2-1 in their first outing on Sunday in Hamburg.

- Lukaku misery -

Belgium no longer rank among the leading contenders but they were not expected to start with a defeat against Slovakia in Frankfurt, where Ivan Schranz of Slavia Prague scored the only goal of the game.

Schranz struck in the seventh minute, firing home the rebound after Belgian goalkeeper Koen Casteels had saved from Juraj Kucka.

It was an especially frustrating day for Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku, who missed a host of chances and had a late equaliser controversially disallowed by VAR.

He had already had one effort ruled out for a marginal offside call before he swept home a Lois Openda cutback in the 86th minute.

This time, however, the goal was disallowed because the ball had brushed Openda's hand at the beginning of the move.

Belgium's first defeat since the 2022 World Cup puts Domenico Tedesco's team under pressure going into their second Group E match against Romania on Saturday.

- Romania sink Ukraine -

Romania won at a major international tournament for the first time in 24 years as they saw off Ukraine with the help of two errors from goalkeeper Andriy Lunin.

Captain Nicolae Stanciu's magnificent long-range strike -- following a misplaced Lunin clearance -- gave Romania, backed by the vast majority of the Munich crowd, a first-half lead in their Group E opener.

Razvan Marin's shot from distance then skipped under Lunin as Romania turned the screw with two more goals before the hour, Denis Dragus tapping home the third.

"This shirt means everything to me and to score at the Euros, you can't do more than that. To also win in the manner we did, that's just incredible," said Stanciu.

Romania's last and only previous win at the tournament came when they reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2000.

It was a disastrous start to the campaign for Ukraine, who must quickly regroup with games to follow against Slovakia and Belgium.

"Unfortunately nobody expected this result," said Ukraine coach Serhiy Rebrov. "We didn't do good enough.

"We all have emotions. Everybody is unhappy," he added.

Ukraine players emerged onto the pitch with Ukrainian flags draped over their shoulders in the country's first game at a major tournament since the Russian invasion in February 2022.

They missed out on qualifying for the World Cup two years ago but secured a fourth successive appearance at the Euros, despite the backdrop of the largest European conflict since World War II.