Pavard piledriver punishes valiant Ireland
Euro 2024 Qualifier
Republic of Ireland 0-1 France
It was heartbreak for the Republic of Ireland in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier as they were edged out by World Cup finalists France, losing 1-0 at the Aviva Stadium.
Stephen Kenny’s side matched their esteemed opponents in the opening 45 minutes, but then a moment’s lapse at the back allowed Benjamin Pavard to fire home the only goal of the game five minutes after the re-start.
Ireland battled hard for an equaliser, most notably in the final ten minutes with Nathan Collins coming close to grabbing a point, however, it never arrived and Kenny’s charges were consigned to a defeat in their opening Group B encounter.
France made three changes from the side that hammered the Dutch 4-0 on Friday night, and it was arguably a more attacking unit selected by coach Didier Deschamps with Olivier Giroud joining the already formidable attack of Kylian Mbappe and Randal Kolo Muani, with Benjamin Pavard and Eduardo Camavinga also included.
Stephen Kenny said before the game that he did not need to issue a battle cry for the fans, as they knew the importance of the game, and they did not disappoint bringing the clamour, colour and passion to Lansdowne Road.
A pleasant period of getting to know you throughout the opening exchanges, with both sides enjoying time on the ball, and Ireland showed good attacking intent, with a decent spell of possession as Kenny’s side were not content to just knock it around at the back, but found their way forward both on the left and then through the centre, testing Theo Hernandez’s legs early on as he did well to prevent Chiedozie Ogbene racing through.
Then in the eighth minute, the visitors, as expected, exploded into life as Eduardo Camavinga clipped a clever ball into the feet of Kolo Muani charging in off the right and across the advancing Gavin Bazunu, who did enough to send him wide of the goal.
A neat back-flick across the face saw Olivier Giroud come close to working the ball on target, but there were enough green jerseys there to block the path to goal.
That gave the French the encouragement to maintain the pressure, and the Irish penalty box remained the focal point of the game for the next five minutes, until the ball was finally seen to touch.
It’s fair to say that Mbappe was one of the least involved at that stage, with a lot of the good France play coming though Antoine Griezmann in the centre and Kolo Muani, showing well on the right flank; a blocked shot on goal in the 16th minute the best Mbappe could muster.
Ireland’s best route to goal appeared to come via the set-piece, and Ogbene proved the perfect outlet in the 17th minute to win a free in the corner. But nothing came from the free in, with France well organised to clear, as they did again a minute later.
In the 19th minute, Hernandez burst clear, racing up the left wing, with Mbappe flying through the centre, but first Dara O’Shea and then the ever-energetic Jayson Molumby got back to cover the counter.
Mbappe showed a blistering turn of pace midway through the half, flying at Coleman, but the captain offered an experienced nudge to slow him down and run him to the byline. Giroud connected with a free header from the corner, which cannoned off Coleman’s head but Bazunu was alert to pounce on the loose ball and gather.
Doherty’s great mazy run up the left, taking two players with him, gave the crowd another opportunity to increase the decibel levels, and with 30 minutes gone, the scoreless scoreboard showed that the team were living up to their side of the bargain.
As the half progressed, Mbappe was forced to drop deep, while a long-range shot from Hernandez was also a sign that a touch of frustration was creeping in.
Still the visitors looked like they could turn it on with a flick at the near post, that kept Bazunu on his toes as Griezmann’s header flew just wide.
Ireland’s best look at goal came in the 40th minute, again from a set-piece, as John Egan’s flicked header found O’Shea at the back post, but his snap-shot was quickly blocked by Kolo Muani – a VAR penalty check was held, but quickly dismissed.
A purple patch for the home side followed however for the string of set-piece plays Ireland were yet to force an attempt on goal, the relatively new French goalkeeper remained relatively untested.
The opening goal arrived five minutes after the re-start, as Benjamin Pavard rifled an exquisite effort in off the underside of the crossbar.
But from an Irish perspective, it was such a disappointing goal to give away, as Josh Cullen misplaced a simple sideways ball to Knight, who had moved ahead of the pass – a gift for the advanced France full-back who thundered it home without hesitation.
Ireland looked for an immediate response, and it came via a Jason Knight shot from outside the box, however, his well-hit effort was deflected wide for a corner.
In the 54th minute, Griezmann then had a free in a great position just outside the box; Ferguson staying tall in the wall to help the ball away from Bazunu’s goal.
Four minutes later, Ogbene’s pace took him clear on the right flank, before Knight was found arriving on the left side of the area. The Derby County man could not get shot away, however, Matt Doherty’s barge forward almost saw Ferguson skip in on goal, but Mike Maignan read the danger and collected.
Adam Idah was sent on to replace Ferguson up top as Ireland enjoyed a relatively comfortable ten minutes play, before Bazunu was again called into action in the 69th minute as French substitute, Moussa Diaby’s curled effort was batted away to safety.
France continued in search of a second and in the 75th minute, Adrien Rabiot’s stinging effort forced Bazunu to get down quickly to his left to scoop the shot clear.
A triple substitution soon followed with James McClean, Alan Browne and Mikey Johnston sent on, in search of an equaliser, and it led to a sustained spell of Irish pressure first with Idah and then Molumby threatening inside the box.
James McClean burst in from the left in the 83rd minute, but his rifled effort was well blocked en route to goal, before Collins and Browne let loose, as Ireland camped on the perimeter of the French penalty area.
France dug in, unable to take the pressure off their own goal, and then the equalising effort almost arrived courtesy of a Jules Koundé header that forced his own keeper into a fine save.
From the resulting corner, Collins’ headed effort looked destined for the top corner only for another remarkable save by the new France number one, who somehow clawed the ball clear in the final minute of play.
Three added minutes were safely negotiated by Deschamps’ defiant defence as France held on for the three points to make it two from two, while next up for Ireland is a double header with Greece and Gibraltar in June.
Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Nathan Collins, John Egan, Dara O’Shea (Alan Browne 77); Seamus Coleman (capt), Matt Doherty (James McClean 77), Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby (Michael Obafemi 86), Jason Knight (Mikey Johnston 77); Chiedozie Ogbene, Evan Ferguson (Adam Idah 65)
France: 16 Mike Maignan; Benjamin Pavard (Jules Kounde 81), Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konaté, Theo Hernández; Adrien Rabiot (Aurélien Tchouameni 81), Antoine Griezmann, Eduardo Camavinga, Randal Kolo Muani (Marcus Thuram 90), Olivier Giroud (Moussa Diaby 65), Kylian Mbappé (capt)
Referee: Artur Dias (POR)