KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Now you see him, now you don’t. France, playing a long game in the group stage at UEFA Euro 2024 in Leipzig, refused to risk Kylian Mbappe in the finals’ first goalless draw which sent both Les Bleus and Netherlands into the knockout stage.

French coach Didier Deschamps, as a World Cup winner in the roles of both captain and manager, is the most experienced coach at the finals and has always insisted on an entirely different approach to the group stage and knockout rounds.

Hence he probably never planned to field Mbappe against Netherlands after the France captain and attacking inspiration suffered the broken nose in the closing minutes of the opening victory over Austria.

A draw was the optimal result for both teams though France, ever without Mbappe, must have kicked off with greater confidence from the recent memories of their 4-0 and 2-1 victories over Netherlands in the qualifying competition.

Les Bleus should have struck yet another goal against the Dutch midway through the first half. Adrien Rabiot burst through on the right but, inexplicably, preferred to try to pass to Antoine Griezmann rather than shoot himself. Unfortunately, his pass surprised Griezmann as much as the Dutch defence. The Atletico Madrid forward lost his footing and the chance was lost.

Griezmann was close moments later with a shot which skimmed the right-hand post of keeper Jan Verbruggen.

Netherlands had demonstrated serious pace in attack on occasion and William Saliba and Dayot Upamecano had to be always vigilant in the centre of the French defence.

France took control early in the second half. Marcus Thuram shot wide from just outside the penalty box, Aurelien Tchouameni headed over the bar and Griezmann was foiled at close range by Verbruggen after the most exciting move of the game.

Netherlands thought they had taken the lead in the 72nd minute through Xavi Simons but VAR Stuart Attwell directed referee Anthony Taylor to disallow the goal because Denzel Dumfries, standing alongside keeper Maignan, had been clearly offside and, presumably, interfering with play.

The teams played out time, Mbappe stayed firmly sat on the subs’ bench and, ultimately, everyone was happy . . . except Poland who were eliminated as a consequence of the draw.

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