Sunday, 26 June 2016

France v Republic of Ireland Match Analysis


The Irish media billed this game as a revenge mission, referring to Thierry Henry's handling of the ball in the build up to a goal during a playoff for qualification to the 2010 World Cup finals. French coach, Didier Deschamps, played this down, stating that "In football, there is no revenge", and I'm sure he was sincerely hoping this would be the case, as failure to reach the last eight would be seen as disastrous for the host nation. The overriding motivational factor for Ireland, as well as wanting to do it for themselves and their army of fans, was most likely to be a possible quarter final tie against the old enemy, England.

For the French supporters, their main concern centred around the fact that this team of superbly gifted footballers has largely played within themselves so far. Could this be the day that they threw off the shackles, and cut loose with a display of expressive, free-flowing attacking football?
The Irish fans, however, were asking the opposite question. Namely, could this team of largely technically limited players maintain the exceptionally high standards that they had achieved in the game against Italy?

With kick off approaching, these, and many other questions, were about to be answered.

Martin O'Neill unsurprisingly named an unchanged side from the Italian game, while Deschamps reverted to the team that he started the tournament with.
Straight from kick off Ireland looked to play the ball forward, an unsettled defence allowed Shane Long to control the ball in the penalty area, Pogba's clumsy challenge brought him down and the referee pointed to the spot. Up stepped Robbie Brady, the hero from Lille on Wednesday evening, and despatched the spot-kick to put the Irish fans in dreamland.


As expected, France came to life. No time to feel out the opposition and play their way into the game, they had to push forward whenever they had the ball. The Irish didn't panic though, and looked to counter at every opportunity, and when they did get forward the French full backs looked decidedly uncomfortable.

Paul Pogba had clearly been identified as the danger man, and was on the end of some fairly agricultural challenges whenever he carried the ball towards the Irish goal. Roy Keane's words about doing whatever it takes to get a result had been taken on board, and a yellow card for Seamus Coleman was rightly shown.
Midway through the half N'Golo Kanté was also booked, the result of this being a suspension for the next game, should France make it through.


The game turned scrappy, with fouls and injuries interrupting the flow, which perfectly suited O'Neill's men, as the longer they held onto the lead, the more frustrated France seemed to become. Ireland should have doubled their lead on 41 minutes as Keogh outjumped the French defence and got his head on the end of a free kick, but was unable to steer the ball towards goal. The fouls and yellow cards continued to come, and with halftime looming, Hendricks and Rami had also been ruled out of their next international match.

France upped the pressure in added time, with only some last-ditch, scrambled defending keeping Randolph's goal intact. Nevertheless, when the referee blew the whistle, Ireland had survived, and left the field with a deserved one nil lead.

Deschamps made an attacking substitution at halftime, Kingsley Coman replacing Kanté, signalling France's attacking intent. Straightaway he made a difference, and the Irish back four looked terrified whenever he ran at them with the ball at his feet. With so many players pushing forward, France looked vulnerable to the counter, so the game started to open up slightly.
France fashioned an equaliser on 57 minutes when an unmarked Griezmann met Giroud's cross from the right hand side, and his powerful header beat Randolph to level the tie.


 Three minutes later, the ball broke to Griezmann on the edge of the Irish box, and this time he steered a shot low into the bottom corner. Two one to France, could Ireland find a way back?


On 65 minutes Ireland pressed the self destruct button, Griezmann (who else?) bore down on goal, Duffy could only hack him down to prevent the shot, and the referee had no chance but to show the defender a red card. The only positive thing Ireland could take from this was the fact that it happened just outside the penalty box, as a penalty, and a third goal, would've completely crushed the Irish spirit.


As it was, Ireland continued to defend well, although they struggled to cope with the movement of the French forwards. A man down, they had nobody to play the ball to whenever they won it back, so invited waves of French pressure onto a beleaguered back line. Depleted, and chasing shadows for much of the rest of the half, the Irish team began to wilt in the afternoon sun. France could, and perhaps should, have scored more, Gignac in particular being guilty of some poor finishing.

Two one was the final score, France deservedly progressing to the next round. Griezmann caught the eye because of his goals, and Coman's speed and movement was also a highlight, but for me, the best player was Pogba. When Kanté came off, Pogba moved into a deeper role and played it superbly,  and with Kanté unavailable for the next round, I wonder if Deschamps will be tempted to play him there from the start.


France, at times, did play in a manner that their fans expect. Although Ireland going down to ten men helped them in that respect, so there is still a question for them to answer.
Ireland, on the other hand, answered their fans question, as they showed that despite their best efforts, it was impossible to maintain such a high performance level for another 90 minutes.

So, France march on, to the sound of the Marseillaise, while the Republic of Ireland's dressing room will be deafened by the sound of silence.






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