Euro 2024: Neighbors France and Belgium meet in heavyweight contest with Mbappe still wearing a mask

Sun, Jun 30, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

Euro 2024: Neighbors France and Belgium meet in heavyweight contest with Mbappe still wearing a mask

DORTMUND, Germany (AP) - France and Belgium meet in the round of 16 at the European Championship on Monday. The neighbors are the top two European nations in the FIFA rankings - France is at No. 2 and Belgium at No. 3 - but they haven't really been playing like it so far. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. local (1600 GMT) in Duesseldorf. Here's what to know about the match:

Match facts

- The drama surrounding Kylian Mbappe's broken nose has died down somewhat, though he will still need to wear a protective mask for the match. The France captain's only goal in his two appearances so far came from the penalty spot against Poland so the striker has some work to do to reach the tournament-high eight goals he got at the last World Cup in Qatar.

- There has been some criticism in France of the team's style of play, in particular its lack of efficiency up front. France coach Didier Deschamps doesn't appear too concerned at this stage, even telling disgruntled armchair critics: "If they don't like it, they can change the channel."

- Disenchantment with Belgium's performances went up a notch after the 0-0 draw against Ukraine that closed the group stage and left the team in second place, behind Romania, and on a collision course with France. Belgium captain Kevin De Bruyne was leading the players toward the fans gathered behind one of the goals after the match, only to turn away when hearing the loud jeers coming from that end. De Bruyne threw his hands in the air, clearly unhappy with what he was hearing.

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- The Belgians have been eliminated in the quarterfinals at the past two Euros but will need to improve to even get to that stage this time. They'll hope for more luck for striker Romelu Lukaku, who has had three goals ruled out by video review and has yet to score.

- Belgium's soccer federation apologized Saturday for a video that appeared on one of its social-media channels. A Belgian comedian was on the video and asked who would "kick Mbappe's shin" during the match, to which Belgium midfielder Amadou Onana replied: "Amadou Onana." The video has been deleted.

- France and Belgium met in the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and the 2021 Nations League, with the French winning each time.

- The winner will play Portugal or Slovenia in the quarterfinals.

Team news

- Antoine Griezmann is expected to return to France's team after being rested against Poland. He could come into midfield to add some creativity, with Aurelien Tchouameni or Adrien Rabiot potentially dropping out. Mbappe started up front against Poland but may begin on the left wing against Belgium.

- Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco doesn't seem sure on who to play on the right wing, with Leandro Trossard starting twice, Dodi Lukebakio once and Yannick Carrasco also operating there. If Mbappe is at center forward, his pace could trouble Belgium's 37-year-old center back, Jan Vertonghen.

By the numbers

- Mbappe's goal against Poland was his first at a European Championship. He has played six games at the tournament.

- France lost in the round of 16 at the last Euros in 2021, in a penalty shootout with Switzerland. Mbappe was the only France player to fail to score in the shootout.

- Belgium has won only one of its last six meetings with France, a 4-3 victory in Paris in 2015.

- De Bruyne turned 33 on Friday.

What they're saying

- "Once the group stage is over, it's in the past, just as it is for us. Mentally, they'll be different. They're still a side who can surprise you at any moment." - France midfielder Eduardo Camavinga on Belgium.

- "I can understand they are frustrated with the performance but it's not like we played three bad games, and we are qualified. So yeah, it's a bit frustrating for us." - Belgium right back Timothy Castagne on the team's fans.

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

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