There’s no masking the truth: Euro 2024’s first goalless draw sums up France’s biggest problem

Antoine Griezmann missed France’s best chances in a 0-0 draw   (Reuters)
Antoine Griezmann missed France’s best chances in a 0-0 draw (Reuters)

There’s no masking the truth from this first 0-0 of Euro 2024. France, the true favourites, currently lack end product. It does raise doubt over whether they can end this tournament as European champions, although it only adds narrative weight to Kylian Mbappe’s eventual return from his broken nose. He forced France’s only goal of Euro 2024 so far, and that was from an Austria defender. A promising Netherlands team did have the ball in the back of the net, although that was ruled out in the game’s most debated moment.

That wasn’t to say this was a bad match. It was often enthralling, although lacked more than the finish and the tournament’s outstanding player. That real impetus wasn’t there. Some of that may have been circumstantial.

As good as the game was, and as sensational as the tournament has been as a whole, this is maybe where the flaws of the 24-team competition are revealed. It takes something from these matches between the heavyweights. They both know they have a safety net with four third-placed sides going through. That wouldn’t quite be the case if it was only two going through. There’d have been a greater tension, and maybe more output.

There is also an interesting question about the French here. Although they did have some sumptuous interchanges, and Antoine Griezmann really should have scored at least once, what they were doing was still out of step with the general tactical trends of the tournament. It is a world away from the football Germany and Spain have been playing. That is exactly as Didier Deschamps wants it, of course. He has no pretensions about entertaining football. It’s about getting through it.

Denzel Dumfries was offside as Xavi Simons fired in (Reuters)
Denzel Dumfries was offside as Xavi Simons fired in (Reuters)

Whether this is behind the times or actually the path to stay in the competition will only be known by the end. Right now, it looks a touch antiquated, but it would be a mistake to dismiss that as a reason they may not end up as champions.

France’s outstanding strength in depth remains the most important element of the team. It just isn’t exactly being maximised in attack right now. Their defence, to be fair, does minimise absolutely everything coming at them.

It isn’t out of step with what England have been doing now, and discussion has already grown about the different way that France are analysed compared to Gareth Southgate's team. The reasons for that are obvious. They were world champions six years ago and took the last final to the very furthest distance, in maybe one of the greatest games of all time. As Deschamps illustrates from his attitude to defending, they know exactly what they’re about. The same can’t be said about England.

The Dutch found that here. They could still be a team that goes under the radar but ends up over-performing. They haven’t been discussed much in the build-up to the tournament, largely because of the youth of the team and dismissive perceptions of Ronald Koeman. The former, however, means there is a lot of promise there. Jeremie Frimpong has pace that will frighten any side, and duly changed this game immediately with one run. Tijani Reijnders offered thrust in midfield, while Xavi Simons had one moment where he showed Ousmane Dembele who was boss.

Frimpong went close to the breakthrough in the opening minute (Reuters)
Frimpong went close to the breakthrough in the opening minute (Reuters)

It was physicality that was usually the issue. There were a lot of moments when the Dutch looked like they were in only for one of France’s formidable backline to suddenly just consume all space and ensure the chance evaporated. William Saliba is especially good at it.

It meant the Dutch rarely got as close as the French did, which was at two points as close as you can get without scoring.

In the first half, the ball was sent through for Marcus Thuram who fed Adrien Rabiot. The midfielder had the goal at his mercy only to inexplicably square it for Griezmann. Griezmann wasn’t ready for it and had to adjust his body, only for the chance to just trickle away. It was similar in the second half after a sublimely inventive and instinctive flick from Thuram sent Ousmane Dembele. He played it across for Griezmann but it was again like the French weren’t quite sharp enough.

Mbappe watched on from the bench (Reuters)
Mbappe watched on from the bench (Reuters)

Deschamps’s side were well on top at this point, only for the game to turn, from a goal that was overturned. A sudden Dutch attack ended with Xavi Simons hammering the ball into Mike Maignan’s net.

By the letter of the law, however, substitute Denzel Dumfries was impeding Maignon. It might have helped that the goalkeeper immediately pointed at Dumfries, although Anthony Taylor didn’t have recourse to the monitor.

After a long wait, and even dialogue with the two captains, the goal was eventually ruled out. Koeman then compounded the disappointment for Xavi by immediately taking him off. The truth was he had faded from the game. The game didn’t sustain the same energy.

Both had what they came for, as the first 0-0 of the tournament knocked out Poland and Robert Lewandowski.

But the most interesting question is whether it will be enough for France to come away with the trophy – and the reappearance of one player may be crucial to that.