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Tuesday 21 August 2018

Irish will need to learn from French lesson

France 2 Ireland 0

FIRST: France striker Olivier Giroud (second from left) pokes home to
score the first goal in last night’s friendly win over Ireland at the Stade de France in Paris. Photo: Sportsfile
FIRST: France striker Olivier Giroud (second from left) pokes home to score the first goal in last night’s friendly win over Ireland at the Stade de France in Paris. Photo: Sportsfile

A few French lessons were picked up in Paris last night.

From an Irish viewpoint, they were not so positive or memorable, this 2-0 loss thanks to a pair of goals just before half time leading to a third straight defeat.

The first of those losses was against Denmark in November and on the evidence of last night, it's hard to see that the team has made much, if any, progress since that 5-1 calamity.

No one expected Ireland to beat the French in Paris, and one of the lessons we learned from the Stade de France is that Les Bleus can be considered among the contenders for the World Cup finals.

This was a weakened Ireland XI up against a France side containing an audacious amount of talent, that's to be accepted.

CLOSE CALL: (l-r) Ireland substitute Graham Burke tracks France’s Djibril Sidibe in last night’s friendly clash in Paris. Photo: Sportsfile
CLOSE CALL: (l-r) Ireland substitute Graham Burke tracks France’s Djibril Sidibe in last night’s friendly clash in Paris. Photo: Sportsfile

But the old failings with Ireland are still there to see: inability to be strong against set pieces (France's first goal came from a poorly-defended corner, what do Ireland do in training?), inability to use the ball well when in rare moments of possession, anonymity in midfield and lack of creativity.

Quality

In back to back friendly games against Turkey and France, albeit away from home, Ireland have not mounted one single attempt on goal. That's a long 180 minutes.

Given the quality of the French side and the absence of key players like Darren Randolph, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick for Ireland, this was always going to be a tough night, a miracle if Ireland could get to half time without conceding.

As it turned out, the French were 2-0 up at the break, and could have been ahead by far more. This was hard to watch through an Irish lens, so much possession for France that stats can't do it justice and the mere hope that Ireland could absorb that pressure and stay in the game, but two goals in the space of three minutes before the break showed just why France were so classy.

It's a puzzle how they weren't able to add to that tally later on, even when bringing on a sub with the quality of Antonine Griezmann, who brought the house down when he came off the bench though Ireland's tormentor in Lille two years ago would finish this game without a goal against O'Neill's side.

The rain which began to pour down in St Denis 90 minutes before kick off took some of the heat out of the air for the Irish visitors, as Paris had been baking in sunshine for the previous few days.

Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile

For long spells, it was men against boys. Midway through the first half, a fan managed to elude the ring of steel and got onto the field, leading the chasing duo of security men a merry dance, as he ran around the half of the pitch which France keeper Steve Mandanda was protecting.

That was the most exposed France had been all night as Ireland had nothing to offer in attack, apart from two non-threatening efforts from Shane Duffy and Shane Long from set plays as Marseille Mandanda had a very quiet night.

Colin Doyle was busy and had made a couple of good saves, denying Benjamin Mendy, Mbappé and Nabil Fekir before Giroud finally got the home side ahead, scrambling the ball over the line on the rebound as Doyle saved his initial effort.

Doyle will be not to keen to see replays of the second French goal, the Cork native making an unconvincing attempt to save a shot by Fekir and the ball went beyond Doyle and over the line, gifting France a 2-0 lead.

The rain dropped harder the longer the game went on and subs like Harry Arter and David Meyler tried to put some bite into the side, while debutants Graham Burke, Shaun Williams and fellow subs Matt Doherty and Alan Judge racked up game time, but bar a late chance for Shaun Williams it was all France.

The final few minutes had a touch of farce about them, driving rain leaving puddles on the pitch, with passing football impossible, many fans scurrying for shelter from the heavy rain.

As the final whistle came, the stats men told us that Ireland had 22% possession. The USA on Saturday won't be as tough a test, but this Ireland manager still needs to right a lot of wrongs before the qualifiers come around in September.

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