Austria blow Euro 2024 wide open after beating France and Netherlands to Group D top spot

Dave Tickner
Ronald Koeman looks dejected as Austria stun Netherlands at Euro 2024
Ronald Koeman looks dejected as Austria stun Netherlands at Euro 2024

Now that’s the good stuff. That’s how you finish a group stage.

This tournament has had pretty much everything you could ask for, but the one thing it had arguably lacked was a game where two teams trade goals in giddy fashion as Austria and Netherlands did in the second half here.

That combined with a third consecutive unconvincing display from France in a 1-1 draw with Poland gave it the added wonderful dimension of seeing three different teams leading the group as the second half ticked away.

That it’s Austria, brilliant in their last two games having been a touch unlucky against France, who emerge on top of Group D means this is an afternoon that not only sparkled on its own merits but one that sends ripples throughout the tournament.

It is Austria now who take France’s anticipated position in the draw as winners of Group D. Yet on what we’ve seen so far anyone who might finish second in Group F thinking they’ve got themselves an easier task in the last 16 might be in for a surprise.

While Ralf Rangnick’s pressing monsters traded blow after blow with the Dutch, Didier Deschamps’ France laboured once again.

After three games, their only goals have been an own goal and a Kylian Mbappe penalty. They are, if anything, more conspicuously less than the sum of their parts currently than England. At least England have the excuse of legitimate doubts about the defence.

To have this collection of France players operating at this level is almost art. We’d love to see the reaction if England had the players France do and played the way France do. Didier Deschamps would be in jail.

Hats off, too, to Dayot Upamecano in the VAR delay ahead of Poland’s equalising penalty. We genuinely don’t think we’ve ever seen anyone look more conspicuously guilty before a referee was sent to the monitor. As guilty as a puppy next to a pile of poo.

There was further drama with the penalty retaken as Mike Maignan was almost tricked off his line by Robert Lewandowski’s PFM-baiting stuttering run-up.

The most striking thing, though, was how very little France offered from that moment on with top spot up for grabs as the Netherlands fell down against Austria. They huffed and puffed but a Poland side who had been the first eliminated from the tournament rebuffed them with disarming ease.

The knockout bracket now has a strikingly unexpected look to it. The most conspicuous change being that France have stumbled into the top half of the draw – one that already includes Germany, Spain and Portugal. All of whom have been notably better than France thus far.

There is even one of the five remaining possible combinations of third-place finishers that throws the Netherlands into that top half of the draw too, against Spain.

Far more likely, though, is that the upshot of this is Netherlands facing the winners of Group C. England’s group. If Croatia miss out from Group B, as expected, then it will be Netherlands for the Group C winner if the other unlucky third-place team comes from either Group E or Group F. And there’s a very, very strong chance they come from Group F.

This is a pair of results that have blown the tournament wide open. It’s reasonable to make the argument life just got harder for France and the Netherlands most obviously, but also for every single one of Germany, Spain, Portugal and England. That’s the good stuff.