Ireland are the first obstacle standing in France’s way as the tournament hosts enter the knock-out rounds with eyes firmly set on the prized European Championship trophy.
Having won two of their three major international honours as hosts, France were touted as favourites to take home the Euros this time as well with a boisterous home support to back a squad bursting with mercurial talent. However if the group stage were anything to go by, bookmakers would now increase the odds on the French taking the trophy because quite honestly, they have been unconvincing.
Didier Deschamps’ side left it till late in both their opening games against Romania and Albania to come home with three points and those were games where the French were expected to coast through given the kind of players they housed in their squad. France dispatched an Ottmar Hitzfeld led-Switzerland by an emphatic 5-2 scoreline in Brazil two years ago at the World Cup, but had to settle for a draw against a side now led by Vladimir Petkovic, who hadn’t really brought out the best out of his team yet.
Ireland, on the other hand, enter the fixture buoyed by their incredible victory over giants Italy in their final group game and will have revenge on their minds when they take the field at Lyon on Sunday. The Irish will vividly remember a horrific evening on 18th November 2009 at Saint Denis when they were denied World Cup qualification by a contentious Thierry Henry hand-ball in the build-up to William Gallas’ 103rd-minute winner. The goal sealed the 2006 World Cup finalists’ ticket to South Africa when they were only a penalty shoot-out away from an embarrassing elimination. Robbie Keane who led the Irish attack that day will take the field once more and will be keen on avenging that bitter Parisian evening as they look to seal an unlikely passage through to the quarter-finals.
Team News and Tactics
His decision to bench Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba against Albania show that Deschamps’ isn’t one to be swayed by a player’s popularity and will field the best performing players in his lineup. However as we approach the knock-out stages of the competition, the Frenchman may want to play it safe.
That means Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba could start while Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud and N’Golo Kante could get back into the starting XI as well. West Ham’s Dimitri Payet has had a brilliant tournament so far and is expected to be among the first names on the roster. Having brushed aside all injury doubts before entering the competition, the French face no trouble as far as player fitness is concerned with the whole squad in good shape.
As has been the case throughout this tournament, Deschamps is expected to stick to his 4-3-3 formation with Giroud leading the attack, flanked by Griezmann and Payet. The midfield trio of Pogba, Kante and Blaise Matuidi returns with the three sitting ahead of a defence held together by Adil Rami and Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny with Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna playing the role of full-back. Hugo Lloris will don the gloves for France for a 75th time tomorrow having made his debut for Les Bleus back in 2008.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3) : Lloris, Sagna, Rami, Koscielny, Evra, Pogba, Kante, Matuidi, Griezmann, Payet, Giroud
Republic of Ireland
Having drawn 1-1 with the Swedes, Ireland were lent a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Marc Wilmots’ Belgium and were heading into their tie against Italy faced with elimination. The Irish however refused to throw in the towel against the Azzurri and displayed a tremendous level of grit and determination before Robbie Brady’s 84th minute winner sent the sea of green at Lille into delirium.
If they can replicate the same against France, who’s to say an upset isn’t on the cards? The Irish most certainly don’t house big names like France does and to stand a chance on Sunday, the Irish must function well as a unit. Full-back Stephen Ward injured his ankle against Italy and is expected to miss the crucial fixture at Lyon. Jonathan Walters who missed the game against the Azzurri due to an Achilles injury returned to training recently and is in line for a place in Martin O’Neill’s starting lineup.
In light of his game-winning heroics against Italy, Robbie Brady could feature in a more attacking role against France. Primarily a midfielder at club-level for Norwich, the 24-year-old has taken left-back duties for the Irish this tournament but with Ward doubtful Brady may yet start in that position. John O’Shea and Ciaran Clark could once again take the bench with Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh taking their places at centre-back while Jeff Hendrick will play in midfield alongside James McCarthy.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1) : Randolph, Coleman, Duffy, Keogh, Ward, Hendrick, McCarthy, Brady, Hoolahan, Murphy, Long.
- France are unbeaten in their last 15 major tournament games played on home soil, winning 13 and drawing two.
- Last time France topped their group at a European Championship, they went on to meet Greece in the first knockout round. That was 2004, the year that Greece went on to win the tournament.
- France haven’t conceded a shot on target at Euro 2016 since giving away a penalty to Romania in the opening game.
- This is the first time Ireland have made it into the round of 16 making only their third appearance at the Championships.
France – Dimitri Payet
The 29-year-old West Ham United star has been on-fire for the hosts and is lining himself up for a golden boot if he keeps up the level of intensity and performance throughout the tournament. Payet has already netted two goals for Les Bleus against Albania and Romania and the odds are in favour of the winger to feature in the scoresheet in the match against Ireland as well.
Republic of Ireland – Wes Hoolahan
The unheralded hero of Irish football, 34-year-old Wes Hoolahan will spearhead an Irish challenge tomorrow in a bid to try and force the unlikeliest of progress to the quarter-finals for Martin O’Neill’s side.
France 1-0 Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland are capable of causing big upsets but given the nature of fortunes for the hosts themselves and backed by a Partisan home crowd to go with a talented bunch of players, France look favourites to overcome the Irish once more on home soil to seal their passage through to the round of 16.
Blast from the past