Football Features

Austria 0-1 France: Wöber nightmare hour seals Les Bleus victory

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:00, 17 June 2024 | Updated: 19:51, 19 June 2024

France began their Euro 2024 campaign with a 1-0 win over Austria in Düsseldorf this evening.

Didier Deschamps’ men came into this summer’s competition as second favourites behind England and were made to work for all three points against their Group D rivals.

Before kickoff, Unsere Burschen head coach Ralf Rangnick, the godfather of gegenpressing, spoke about how the key to any success was denying “service to Mbappé” before adding that Austria “can only do that as a team.”

Containing the Real Madrid-bound forward is easier said than done, and the French weren’t exactly short on game-changers, but it took an unfortunate Max Wöber deflection — the former Leeds United defender inadvertently nodding the ball into his net — for Les Bleus to break the deadlock. But it was all Kylian Mbappé; the French captain sauntered past his opposite number, causing mass confusion among the Austrian ranks before his speculative cross met Wöber’s head.

It was the first time Austria had conceded an own goal in a major tournament. Things could have been different if Christoph Baumgartner had converted Austria’s first goalscoring opportunity moments earlier. Rangnick would have wanted it to fall to him, as he’s been in red-hot form with five goals in his last five internationals. However, Mike Maignan, who until then had not had much to do, showed up when his team desperately needed him.

Rangnick, a realistic optimist, conceded French supremacy, and their game plan quickly became clear: Austria made more tackles (19) and conceded more fouls (11) than any other side while only Scotland (0) had fewer shots in the first half of a game at Euro 2024 (two).

Of those fouls and tackles, three and one belonged to Wöber, respectively. Jesús Gil Manzano would book him following a foul on Ousmane Dembélé while the game was scoreless. He escaped a potential second booking minutes after the break when Griezmann fell headfirst into the advertising hoardings. His teammates remonstrated as they felt Wöber pushed him, but on reflection, it was a fair challenge for the ball.

A one-time Ajax man, Wöber, must have had his heart in his mouth when a quick ball over the top sent Mbappé in on goal. He sprinted clear of him and, from a one-on-one, sent his shot just wide. A wry smile appeared on Mbappé’s face, and audible shock echoed around the ground. That is now 17 shots he had taken at European Championship tournaments without scoring, while he boasts 12 goals from 39 shots at the World Cup. Wöber’s day was soon over when Feyenoord defender Gernot Trauner replaced him before the hour mark.

This game also marked N’Golo Kanté’s sixth start for France since the last European Championship. A move to the Saudi Pro League last summer gave the impression his international career was over, but French head coach Deschamps — who enjoyed his 100th victory more than any other manager in French national team history — surprised most by including the former Chelsea and Leicester City midfielder in France’s championship squad. His inclusion paid off as Kanté provided the blueprint for a perfect midfield performance.

As we’ve come to appreciate before, he won the ball, drove from deep, and was a formidable presence—the heartbeat of the French side. Kanté has been omnipresent, and no moment acutely illustrated why he’s been so lauded when Austria cleared a French set piece five minutes from the end and sent Patrick Wimmer in on goal. Kanté, though, was the man to make up the ground and clear.

He was subsequently named Player of the Match. UEFA’s Technical Observer Panel said: “He won a lot of balls, blocked Austria off in the middle of the pitch and played some good passes forward. Kanté also made an eye-catching covering challenge as the last man.”