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France vs Republic of Ireland Euro 2016 match report: Antoine Griezmann breaks Irish hearts to save hosts

France 2 Republic of Ireland 1: Two goals in three minutes from Griezmann secured France a place in the quarter-finals after staring defeat in the face

Ian Herbert
Stade de Lyon
Sunday 26 June 2016 16:38 BST
Shane Duffy fouls Antoine Griezmann to earn himself a red card
Shane Duffy fouls Antoine Griezmann to earn himself a red card (Getty)

The prospect of a miracle was quite beautiful for the hour it lasted because it was built on creativity, intelligence and technical excellence, not just workmanlike determination from the Republic of Ireland.

Under a searing Lyon sun, they played rapid, accurate counter-attacking football when the moment allowed. After the bitter disappointment of defeat has subsided, perhaps they will the 55th minute of this match when, 1-0 to the good, Robbie Brady steered a firm pass across the French midfield to Daryl Murphy, who navigated it with the inside of his heel to James McClean, advancing fast down the left. He drove in a shot which Hugo Lloris palmed athletically away.

The panic was beginning to rise in the French by that stage, as a side containing a substantial English Championship contingent frustrated them deeply. Darren Randolph, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Murphy delivered performances in the process which saw them leave the stadium and the tournament with the reputations burnished on Sunday night.

Having been awarded an inconceivably early penalty – with the thrill of Brady’s kick after Paul Pogba had sent Shane Long to ground quickened by him despatching it in off the left hand post like a bin ball - they dug in. The physical presence of Daryl Murphy, of Ipswich Town, spread chaos through the French defence as the Irish repeatedly pumped long balls in there. Robbie Brady, of Norwich City, worked between the lines of midfield and attack. Jeff Hendrick, of Derby County, helped stalled the French engine. Hendrick may one day recall how he became the pantomime villain of this game, when a kick to the left thigh which dead-legged him required treatment which the French assumed was a delaying device. Ireland sent France from the field at half time with the boos of their own fans ringing in their ears.

Robbie Brady reacts after giving Ireland the lead over France (Getty)

And then a series of circumstances collided. The heat of the afternoon sun. Ireland’s mere three days’ preparation time, against France’s full week. The technical superiority of the opposition. That side’s depth of tactical options. It was a perfect storm that Ireland could not contend with, allowing France to restore parity and finish their challengers off in the space of nine brutal minutes. By the end, Ireland were listing desperately and, you had to imagine, ready for it all to come to an end.

A Bacary Sagna header found Antoine Griezmann unmarked to head an equaliser. Two men – Stephen Ward and Shane Duffy – followed a long ball towards Olivier Giroud, leaving Griezmann free to receive the knock down header and score again. And then Duffy, who suffered the desolate Ward asking him why he had abandoned Griezmann, encountered a deeper misery. Chasing Griezmann towards the penalty area, he brought him down and was sent off.

It was not the despair that rendered Ireland so desperate at the end. It was the hope. “If we could had gone led for another six or seven minutes we could have used it to our advantage with France getting nervous,” manager Martin O’Neill reflected.

Antoine Griezmann heads in the equaliser during France's 2-1 win over the Republic of Ireland (Getty)

Yet the riches at the home nation’s disposal were so substantial. Deschamps’ strategy for dealing with the deep-lying Irish was to get Antoine Griezmann closer to Olivier Giroud, generate more pace and more width. He had the means to do all three, ending the match with a four-man attacking phalanx.

The introduction of fast, effective technician Kingsley Coman, for N’Golo Kane, at half time, in a re-shaped 4-2-3-1 formation altered the course of the match. Coman, who destroyed Arsenal fore Bayern Munich in the Autumn, is one for England to fear if they progress to face France in the quarter final. So, too, Andre-Pierre Gignac, another whom Deschamps introduced.

It was Gignac who curled a shot as Ireland wilted and Griezmann, played such a substantial role, who drew two sharp saves from Randolph. Even after the setback, Ireland did have the faintest hope. James McClean failed to find the necessary cross after escaping down the left and into box. But it was a lost cause.

 Griezmann celebrates scoring his first goal for France against Ireland 

How different to the way it had all started: a slip from Koscielny in central defence and then panic, tracing through that French box like electricity, as the ball fell to Long. Paul Pogba held his hands up as he ran to challenge him from behind but the placement of his legs was the problem. Long, waiting for the contact, went to ground when the clumsy challenge came, 65 seconds into the match.

When Murphy brought a save from Lloris at full stretch in the midst of the first half, the Irish contingent sang: “We’re going to beat the French.” It was not to be. The Irish fans will always have the memory of that hour’s inconceivable supremacy against the French. It may just take them a while to appreciate the fact.


France (4-3-3): Lloris; Sagna, Rami, Koscielny, Evra; Pogba, Kante, Matuidi; Griezmann, Giroud, Payet

Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Randolph; Coleman, Keogh, Duffy, Ward; Brady, McCarthy, Hendrick, McClean; Long, Murphy

Referee: N Rizzoli (Italy)

Star man: Griezmann

Match rating: 7

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