France get off to winning start against Austria but given Kylian Mbappé scare

<span>Maximilian Wöber reacts after his own goal gave <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:France;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">France</a> a lead they would not relinquish.</span><span>Photograph: Bernadett Szabó/Reuters</span>

On a humid night in Düsseldorf, France eased their way into this tournament with a controlled 1-0 defeat of a game but limited Austria. A first-half own goal settled the match. Otherwise Didier Deschamps’ team played within its limits and opened up the right side of Austria’s defence whenever Kylian Mbappé, who finished the game with a broken nose, stretched his legs.

Starting slowly, keeping the miles in your legs: this French team is settled enough to make these things feel like a point of strength. Not much has changed since Qatar. The shape was the familiar 4-3-3. This is still Total Deschamps, with athleticism and technical ease in every position, and Mbappé always held like a cocked right hand, a constant threat when he’s not an actual knockout punch.

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France’s manager will be pleased with the control in midfield offered by Adrien Rabiot and a thrillingly zesty N’Golo Kanté. Above all this team knows how to play in phases, as they weathered some coltish ­Austrian pressure to strike just when the moment felt right.

By the end one thing seemed clear enough. The song remains the same. Basically someone is going to have to beat France. French victory will be the default at these Euros, as is generally the case these days, the thing that will happen unless something else explicitly gets in the way.

The Düsseldorf Arena is another of the Ruhr’s vast, humid, football hangers. After the travel chaos of England in Gelsenkirchen it was a relief to find a stadium that seemed unsurprised to find itself, of all things, staging an international tournament. At times at these Euros it has felt as though Germany is deliberately trying to break a stereotype. Stow your preconceptions. We definitely aren’t efficient. And the trains really don’t run on time.

At kick-off the Austrian end formed a stoic red wall. Opposite them France’s fans were a riot of tricolours. Marcus Thuram started alongside Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé. At the back William Saliba was next to Dayot Upamecano, a significant turn given Deschamps’ remarks about the Arsenal man “doing things I didn’t like” during his sublime form last season. Those things, whatever they were, now seem to be safely done.

Austria were as expected, with Michael Gregoritsch the attacking focus. Ralf Rangnick has transformed their fortunes of late. This team has been defibrillated, inducted into a high-throttle pressing system. Early on France were hurried a little as Rangnick’s men encircled the white shirts, making the pitch seem small and clogged.

The issue, of course, is that while you’re doing this there will be space elsewhere. This France team always seems to be holding a cleaver behind its back, even when it goes a little slack and slow. Mbappé had his first chance with eight minutes gone, released by Theo Hernández, haring in on goal with startling speed and seeing his low shot saved by Patrick Pentz.

There were some heavy Austrian tackles. The game sparked without catching fire. Austria’s 10th foul of the first half brought the first booking for Phillipp Mwene after 32 minutes. Austria really should have scored just after, Christoph Baumgartner ­stealing in on goal with only Mike ­Maignan ahead of him, but shooting into his leg.

Almost immediately France did score. The goal was a little lucky, but it was made by Mbappé’s craft as he whirled and whipped around on the right side of the Austrian area, then surged past Mwene in the tiniest of spaces, cut the ball back, and saw Maximilian Wöber direct an angled header into the corner of his own net.

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Wöber looked crushed. He just could not adjust quickly enough. Mbappé’s command of tiny spaces had made the error happen, the way he gets to move and snap sideways quicker than anyone in his field of vision. For all their energy and structure Austria were 1-0 down at half-time. Everyone has a plan until they get outjinked one-on-one by Mbappé.

After the break France continued to play in a careful second gear. On 53 minutes something extraordinary happened, Mbappé taking off from inside the French half, leaving Kevin Danso scrabbling in his own divots, outpacing Wöber, who frankly was just a spectator here, a curious tourist. Mbappé zeroed in, then curled his shot past the far post when it seemed impossible this moment of fast-twitch brilliance would not end in a goal.


Patrick Wimmer came on to huge cheers. But Austria’s pressure still felt diffuse. This team has a clear shape. But it doesn’t really have any genuine creative players. The press is the attacking plan.

France began to surge and should have made it two, Mbappé releasing Hernández with a lovely nudged pass, his low cross evading the white shirts in the centre. Kanté had a brief spell of scampering omnipresence where he just seemed to be in every spot, legs whirring, spaces sealed.

At the end Deschamps came striding out on to the pitch, a small, potent figure, vast silver bouffant radiating a familiar authority through the heavy Düsseldorf air. It felt like a summary of the French performance, controlled and stately, eyes fixed on some further horizon. They will need to shift up through the register from this low-key victory. But Deschamps knows those gears are there.