A screamer from Benjamin Pavard saw France claim a resilient 1-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland in Euro 2024 qualifying on Monday night.
The Irish beat Latvia 3-2 in a recent friendly but couldn’t force an equaliser against the French as their bid to reach a first European Championship since 2016 started with defeat at the Aviva Stadium.
It’s two wins from two games for new captain Kylian Mbappe and France, who have taken an early grip on Group B.
Randal Kolo Muani, who has scored 11 Bundesliga goals for Eintracht Frankfurt this season, rounded Gavin Bazunu early on and found Olivier Giroud, but the veteran striker was quickly surrounded by Irish defenders who eventually cleared to safety.
It was a story of slow build-up from France against the stoic work ethic of the Boys in Green, and the hosts kept the World Cup finalists comfortably at bay in the opening stages. Pavard’s yellow card midway through the first half was the first blatant sign of Les Bleus’ growing frustration.
Ireland showed sparks of attacking threat, with Josh Cullen delivering some dangerous crosses and Chiedozie Ogbene’s determination earning applause from the crowd.
However, while the hosts stunted France’s passing pattern, they could only manage one shot in the first half and a thunderbolt early in the second period saw Didier Deschamps’ side take the lead.
Cullen couldn’t clear his lines effectively and Pavard picked up possession and struck a fearsome effort from the edge of the box which fizzed past Bazunu into the roof of the net.
It was a lead scarcely deserved for Les Bleus but they started to look more authoritative on the ball after going 1-0 up and Bazunu was needed to prevent substitute Moussa Diaby curling into the far corner.
The Southampton stopper was soon called into action again, keeping out a sharp drive from Adrien Rabiot, before manager Stephen Kenny rang the changes for the final 15 minutes.
Ireland managed some strong periods of pressure late on and it was almost siege-like when Nathan Collins saw his header from a corner remarkably clawed away from safety by the impressive Mike Maignan. That was the final major chance before the full-time whistle.
A second win in qualifying puts France three points clear at the top of Group B, with Ireland in fourth above Gibraltar on goal difference.
GK: Gavin Bazunu – 6/10 – Made a couple of smart stops to stop France charging into a more dominant lead.
CB: Nathan Collins – 6/10 – Looked like he’d seen a ghost after watching Maignan save his late header. Didn’t do too much wrong in defence.
CB: John Egan – 7/10 – Booked late on for a collision. Led Ireland’s defensive effort with three blocks and clearances apiece.
CB: Dara O’Shea – 6/10 – Had one shot blocked in a promising position. Wanted a penalty for a tussle with Muani but got nothing.
RWB: Seamus Coleman – 7/10 – Considering he’s long in the tooth at this point, 34-year-old Coleman dealt with the threat of Mbappe smartly.
CM: Jayson Molumby – 6/10 – Made some dogged challenges in midfield and only misplaced three of his 34 passes. Not that creative, mind.
CM: Josh Cullen – 5/10 – Set pieces looked dangerous but just couldn’t find their targets. Gave the ball away to Pavard before the defender’s goal.
LWB: Matt Doherty – 6/10 – Did offer a couple of storming runs down the left and recovered the ball five times.
RF: Chiedozie Ogbene – 6/10 – Didn’t get a chance to shoot at goal but his work rate was cheered on noticeably by the Aviva crowd.
LF: Jason Knight – 5/10 – Helped Ireland clog up midfield but both of his shots on goal were blocked.
ST: Evan Ferguson – 6/10 – Held up the ball nicely on occasion to give Ireland a platform but his influence wained and he came off just after the hour.
Adam Idah (65′ for Ferguson) – 5/10
James McClean (77′ for Doherty) – 6/10
Mikey Johnston (77′ for Knight) – 6/10
Alan Browne (78′ for O’Shea) – 6/10
Michael Obafemi (86′ for Molumby) – N/A
Stephen Kenny – 7/10 – Ireland was organised in defence and looked comfortable at points. They were denied what would have been a well-earned point late on, but this display is promising.
GK: Mike Maignan – 8/10 – Made two big stops late on to stop Ireland claiming a point. Immediately proving his worth as Les Bleus’ new number one.
RB: Benjamin Pavard – 8/10 – Picked up a booking in the first half but picked up the loose ball and smacked in the only goal of the game just after the break. A big performance in his first national team appearance since the World Cup clash with Australia.
CB: Ibrahima Konate – 7/10 – Saw plenty of the ball and was rarely beaten one-v-one.
CB: Dayot Upamecano – 7/10 – Frequently passed France into the final third and snuffed out Ireland’s attacks with a couple of blocks.
LB: Theo Hernandez – 6/10 – Charged up the left in attack but just didn’t get the final ball right.
CM: Antoine Griezmann – 7/10 – Helped France ride out some tough passages of Irish pressure and created a couple of chances in attack.
CM: Eduardo Camavinga – 7/10 – Played some lovely incisive passes early on and was constantly picking up loose possession.
CM: Adrien Rabiot – 7/10 – Didn’t offer the goal threat he has at Juventus recently but was industrious across the pitch and good in the air.
RW: Randal Kolo Muani – 6/10 – Almost set up Giroud early on but was often stopped when dribbling before he could hit top gear.
ST: Olivier Giroud – 6/10 – Had a couple of half-chances but things didn’t fall for him.
LW: Kylian Mbappe – 7/10 – Showed that fearsome drive into the box in attack but France’s passing spluttered throughout and Mbappe’s opportunities suffered as a result,
Moussa Diaby (65′ for Giroud) – 6/10
Jules Kounde (81′ for Pavard) – N/A
Aurelien Tchouameni (81′ for Rabiot) – N/A
Marcus Thuram (90′ for Muani) – N/A
Didier Deschamps – 6/10 – France never got the second goal they needed to truly kill the game off and were indebted to Maignan at the full-time whistle. Deschamps will targeting major improvements in their next outing.