Didier Deschamps came into the press conference room wearing the smile of a man who’s had a good week. The aftermath of the World Cup was ever so slightly rocky, with a little political intrigue to deal with back home and the disappointment of a World Cup final defeat in the air. Retirements, injuries, the looming shadow of Zinedine Zidane, his new four-year contract notwithstanding. But as ever in sport, wins are the best disinfectant.
“We have lots of positives from these two games,” he said. “Two wins, five goals scored, none conceded, six points. We had a tough schedule coming here after playing on Friday against the Netherlands and we were playing a team that was fresh and had the crowd behind them.
“We might not have played as well as we did last week and Ireland defended well. We didn’t create so many chances but we did what we had to win. It was an amazing save at the end. It was almost as important as the goal. This is a tough place to come but I’m happy and I’m proud.”
Mike Maignan’s ludicrous save from Nathan Collins was such a key moment. Maignan has had to wait in line for the France number one shirt. When the guy ahead of you is the team captain who racks up 145 caps, you do a lot of drumming your fingers on the table wondering when your chance will come. Maignan is 28 in the summer and this was just his seventh game for France. He came into these games 10 months pregnant.
“Not surprised, no,” said Deschamps. “It was an incredible save. We know what Mike is capable of. Hugo was the captain for a long time and was also capable of making great saves. But Mike has incredible qualities and great stature. He saved a penalty on Friday but this save was far more significant because it came at the end of the gamer. I have never had any doubts about him.
“Not conceding doesn’t necessarily make us win but we have to be happy with how things have gone. The save at the end, the penalty on Friday, it kept us in a place where we could win. I am just as happy with the fact we scored five over the two games as with the fact that we didn’t concede any. Obviously we scored four on Friday. We didn’t have the same threat today but that speaks to Ireland’s defence.”
In the end, Ireland kept France to three shots on target – the goal and a couple of smart Gavin Bazunu saves. Kylian Mbappé didn’t have a shot on target all night, neither did Antoine Griezmann or Olivier Giroud. The connection between Mbappé and Theo Hernandez that had served France so well in the World Cup was shut down here. Ireland had done their homework and had it not been for Josh Cullen’s loose pass, they’d have aced the exam.
“There is a great relationship between Mbappé and Hernandez,” Deschamps said. “But it was difficult tonight because Ireland did such a great job of defending against them. I don’t think it means anything for them going into other games because each game is played on its own merits.
“And it was the same with Giroud – Ireland marked him really tightly. They played with three central defenders and he didn’t have so much space. But again, this is one game and you can’t read anything into it. Ireland were very tough to play against. They defended really well and it was difficult for us.”
Stephen Kenny was proud of his player’s effort, but understandably frustrated at the result.
“We have watched France’s last 20 games and we’ve never seen Kylian Mbappe, who I voted for as the best player in the world, have such a quiet night. I’ve never seen it, never seen it.
“We didn’t concede any chances up to the goal and that was disappointing. The substitutes made an impact and we finished strongly in the last 15 minutes. Our goalkeeper made an excellent save, but the save from Nathan Collins was out of this world, one of those incredible saves, so we’re disappointed not to get at least a point.”
Ireland will resume their campaign in Greece in June before welcoming Gibraltar to the Aviva Stadium, and those fixtures are likely to have a much greater say in their destiny than what they do against the French home and away.
Asked if they can still spring a surprise in the group, Kenny said: “It is a very important campaign for us and we’re disappointed we didn’t get a point.
“But for sure there’s a lot of points to play for and we want to make sure that we put ourselves really in contention coming into the last couple of games.”