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Hosts France get kind Olympic draw as Mbappe uncertainty lingers

Thierry Henry’s France side are firm favourites to progress following a kind group draw for men’s football at the 2024 Olympic Games on Wednesday, as the hosts wait to see if Kylian Mbappe will be made available.

“Nothing is easy,” said Henry after the draw, but his side, already amongst the favourites for the gold medal on home turf, avoided potential pitfalls in not drawing Morocco and Egypt.

Les Bleus are in Group A of the 16-team tournament with New Zealand, USA and the winners of the AFC-CAF play-off, as they seek to win a second Olympic gold after success in 1984.

“It’s never easy to win a home tournament, I think Brazil and Spain did it (in 2016 and 1992, respectively) but it doesn’t happen often,” said Henry.

“We will try to make it happen, but it’ll be a long journey.”

It is understood that Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe is also very keen to represent his country at the Olympics, but he would likely have little time to rest after Euro 2024.

Football’s world governing body FIFA does not oblige clubs to release players for the Olympics, which could complicate Mbappe’s situation even more.

The World Cup winner’s chances of featuring in the hosts’ squad as one of their three over-23 players seem all but extinct, however fellow 2018 world champion Antoine Griezmann may still feature despite his recent ankle injury.

But, with under-23 talents like Eduardo Camavinga, Bradley Barcola and Warren Zaire-Emery also potentially at his disposal, Henry can well expect to top the group regardless.

Double Olympian Messi?

Such an outcome could well be key in order to avoid Argentina, who were drawn in Group B alongside Morocco, Ukraine and the third qualifier from Asia.

Argentina denied Brazil the chance of winning a third straight men’s Olympic football title after defeating them 1-0 last month to knock them out of qualifying for the Paris Games.

Coach Javier Mascherano has a trump card he may now play as Argentina seek a third gold for themselves after victories in 2004 and 2008.

Global superstar Lionel Messi, 36, won gold in 2008 and, after winning the World Cup in 2022, he may feature for Argentina in a bid to win a last international tournament.

“Everyone knows my relationship with Leo… and the doors are open for him to join us… It’s up to him,” Mascherano, a long-time former international team-mate of Messi, said in February.

Spain, the silver medallists in Tokyo, will feature in Group C against Egypt, Dominican Republic and the second qualifier from the AFC.

Group D will include Paraguay, Israel, Mali and the first qualifier from the AFC.

Men’s football at the 2024 Olympics is primarily restricted to players born after January 1, 2001, but each side is allowed to select three players over the age of 23 for their squad.

The men’s tournament will begin on July 24, two days before the Games opening ceremony, and conclude with the final in Paris on August 9.

The top two teams in each group will qualify for the quarter-finals.

Full draw for the men’s football tournament at the 2024 Olympic Games:

Group A: France, New Zealand, USA, ICP AFC-CAF

Group B: Argentina, Morocco, AFC 3, Ukraine

Group C: AFC 2, Spain, Egypt, Dominican Republic

Group D: AFC 1, Paraguay, Mali, Israel

The AFC U-23 Asian Cup will take place in Qatar from April 15 to May 3, the two finalists and the third-placed team will automatically qualify for the Olympics.

The AFC–CAF play-off will decide the final participant at the Games. It will be contested between African side Guinea and the fourth-placed team from the AFC U-23 Asian Cup.

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