The previous winners of the tournament, Group A1, have just two points from three matches, have lost to Denmark at home and lost the opening two matches to Croatia.
It could have been even worse for the Les Blues at the Ernst Happel Stadium as they were behind Andreas Weiman’s strike until Kylian Mbappe came to the top late in the 37th minute.
With three games left, Didier Deschamps’ team is four points behind Denmark and two points behind Austria and Croatia, the only team to reach next year’s final.
Patrick Pentz saved well to stop Karim Benzema in the opening 17 minutes, but Austria disappointed France in the first half.
Conrad Lemar was played by Marco Arnatovic when the hosts checked and found success and instead selected Weiman for a simple finish from six yards.
Arnatovic almost doubled Austria’s lead before halftime, beating William Saliba and removing a shot, which was finally taken out comfortably by Hugo Loris.
Benzamin Poward’s long-range effort was saved by Pentz and Kingsley Common fired close by as France’s attack came early in the second half.
Mbappe, who recovered from injury in the second half, seemed to have run out of steam until he was matched with Christopher Nkunku.
If Pentz hadn’t made a good save to push his strike forward on a one-goal frame by Mbappe, he would have won the title late in the last few minutes.
What does this mean? France’s victory is permanent
Eight months after defeating Spain to win the previous Nations League competition, France is still struggling to stay in the top tier of the group, no matter how far ahead in the final.
The Les Blues will now have a chance to win their remaining matches and if they leap from the other three sides of their group and remain at the top, other results are expected to come their way.
For Austria, he has now won two of his three games under Ralph Rangnik, who has been on the field since a disappointing spell as interim Manchester United boss.
Mbappe saved one point
Mbappe was ruled out of last week’s half-time match against Denmark due to injury which ruled him out of the Croatia match in the middle of the week, but he was able to play for half an hour here.
The Paris Saint-Germain star expressed quality with his superb strike, sharing five goals in his last five matches for France – three goals and two assists.
Karim remained silent
It was a frustrating day for Deschamps’ offensive players until Mbappe arrived. His replacement, Anthony Griezmann, failed to score in any of the shots.
Meanwhile, Benzema failed to find the net in all five of his attempts, which was in line with the expected goal (xG) of 0.62.
What happens next?
Austria will travel to Denmark on Monday, the day France will host Croatia’s first victory in the French League campaign.
Receive breaking news alerts.
You are already subscribed