Soccer

Brilliance beats guts as France give Ireland Les Bleus in Paris qualifier

Marcus Thuram scores France's second goal against the Republic of Ireland
Marcus Thuram scores France's second goal against the Republic of Ireland Marcus Thuram scores France's second goal against the Republic of Ireland

2024 European Qualifying Group B: France 2 Republic of Ireland 0

IT would be a pointless exercise spending energy analysing this clash in Paris last night. This was a simple equation of when pure brilliance meets guts.

Ireland were gutsy all night – but it was never going to be enough to stop this incredible French juggernaut. 

Make no mistake – France have great players all over the pitch, but they are also a great team, and they showed it at the Parc des Princes last night.

A goal in each half from Aurelien Tchouameni and substitute Marcus Thuram settled this painfully one-sided Euro 2024 qualifier as the Irish now look ahead to Sunday’s make-or-break home clash with Holland who eased to a 3-0 win over Greece last night.  

In truth, the Irish could have lost by five or six more goals. A combination of their guts and good fortune kept it at two goals.

Stephen Kenny’s men put their bodies on the line to keep the score low. At the final whistle, it was relief it was only two. 

The Ireland manager sprung a couple of surprises in his starting line-up for last night’s Group B tie in Paris. It was a case of who didn’t make it: Dara O’Shea hasn’t done a great deal wrong to lose his place to Shane Duffy who made his international return after a year out.

Likewise, 33-year-old Enda Stevens came in from the cold at left-back, nudging out James McClean.  

While Kenny indulged the notion that he may be forced into playing a central defender in the right wing-back berth in the absence of Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty – he stuck with a player more accustomed to the position, so Alan Browne was given the nod there even with Kylian Mbappe playing in that general vicinity. 

Chiedozie Obgene returned to the Irish attack after missing the June camp through injury and was partnered with Adam Idah who assumed the central striker’s role in the absence of the injured Evan Ferguson.

Didier Deschamps made just two changes to his French side that left Dublin back in March with a 1-0 win. Jules Kounde came in at right-back for Benjamin Pavard, who scored the winner in the Irish capital six months ago, and Ousmane Dembele got the nod over Randal Kolo Muani on the right side of the home side’s attack.

In the opening exchanges, this Euro qualifier certainly wasn’t going according to script. The Irish came racing out of the blocks from the kick-off and managed to keep the ball away from the French, albeit their passing moves never caused any stress to their hosts.

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But, given the gulf in quality between the sides, how the opening 15 minutes unfolded was as good as what could be expected from an Irish perspective.

Every minute of this game staying scoreless felt like a moral victory - but it was inevitable the French would start picking holes at the Irish defence. They were too good not to.

Everywhere the Irish players turned in the Parc des Princes last night, they were staring class in the face.

While they have individual brilliance in every area of the pitch, the French are such a cohesive, slick unit all over the field. 

They moved the ball with purpose from side to side and once they isolated the Irish in wide positions, the small band of visiting supporters in the far corner of the stadium held their breath – and probably closed their eyes at times too.

But Dembele and Mbappe’s high crosses into the Irish penalty area were easily dealt with probably because it was so crowded and full of six-footers.

The French had the presence of mind, however, to vary their attacking play, pulling balls back to players at the edge of the box - and that's how they inevitably broke the deadlock.

Adrien Rabiot had the first shot on target from the edge of the area that was comfortably saved by Gavin Bazunu in goal.

Mbappe was full of flash touches in the opening half with Shane Duffy and Jayson Molumby nibbling at his ankles and Browne more than breaking even with the French superstar in the opening half.

But rather than try and do it all himself, Mbappe rolled the ball back to central midfielder Tchouameni on 19 minutes and the Real Madrid star curled it into the corner of the net.

It was a beautiful strike and an unsavable one too.

Cruising at the top of the group and virtually qualified now, the French played exhibition stuff for the rest of the night.

Their one-touch play was out of this world at times and they added a scintillating second goal.

It’s easier to nail jelly than it is to mark Antoine Griezmann.

The Atletico Madrid star played a wall pass with Marcus Thuram before rolling it wide to Theo Hernandez.

The French wing-back set up Mbappe, whose effort was blocked but Thuram pounced to double France’s lead on 49 minutes.    

Ogbene went close with a headed effort soon afterwards and fired over from the resultant corner.

But that’s as good as it got for the Irish. 

It rained chances for France right to the bitter end. Mbappe missed one that was later blown up for off-side.

Dembele crashed an effort off Ireland's upright. Nathan Collins' out-stretched leg stopped Griezmann from scoring.

Tchouameni unleashed another piledriver that Bazunu made a stunning save from.

How it stayed 2-0 was a miracle.

Mbappe did his utmost to get on the scoresheet right to the very last but was held scoreless. France were magnificent on the night - Ireland were as good as what could be expected when looking up at greatness.

They now need to beat the Dutch in a couple of days' time. A tough assignment - but nothing will be as tough again as this balmy night in Paris.