Gutsy display by Ireland but France too strong in Euro 2025 qualifier

Early goal by Katoto enough for victory in Metz, as attention turns to England game

France's forward Marie-Antoinette Katoto scores her team's first goal past Ireland's goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty

Euro 2025 qualifier: France 1 Ireland 0

There was no shortage of fighting prematch talk from the Republic of Ireland players and their manager about relishing rather than fearing taking on France on their own turf in the opening game of their Euro 2025 qualifying campaign. As it proved, the third-ranked nation in the world prevailed in Metz on Friday night, but only by a single goal, Marie-Antoinette Katoto the scorer after six minutes in front of a crowd of 16,772 at the Stade Saint-Symphorien stadium.

No points for Ireland, then, but they’ll take heart from a gutsy defensive display against opposition of this quality.

The backdrop to the game had been a sombre one for the Irish camp after news had come through from home that Kelly Healy, the wife of Irish assistant coach Colin Healy, had died after a long illness. Colin Healy did not travel to France, remaining in Ireland to be with Kelly and their children Arran and Hollie.


In the nations’ 11 previous meetings, Ireland had only managed a single draw, and that was a whole 45 years ago. So both history and pedigree were on the side of the French. And even though their coach Hervé Renard left a string of big names on the bench, among them Wendie Renard, Eugénie Le Sommer and Amandine Henry, presumably with one eye on next Tuesday’s game away to Sweden, it was still a formidable French line-up.

Much as expected, Eileen Gleeson opted for a considerably more cautious approach to this game than during last year’s Nations League campaign, starting with five at the back. She gave a debut to Anna Patten, the former England underage international, the Aston Villa defender slotting in to a back three alongside Caitlin Hayes and Louise Quinn in the absence of the injured Niamh Fahey.

Aoife Mannion took over at left-wing back, Katie McCabe pushed further forward alongside Megan Connolly and Denise O’Sullivan in midfield, with Emily Murphy, who made her debut against Wales in February, on the right.

McCabe and Murphy struggled, though, to get up in support of the isolated Kyra Carusa, the pair kept firmly pressed back by French full-backs Ève Périsset and Sakina Karchaoui, their attacking work leading to two corners for the home side in the opening four minutes.

Two minutes later the opening goal came following Heather Payne’s foul on Delphine Cascarino, Kenza Dali picking out Maëlle Lakrar from the resulting free-kick, the centre-back’s header from the right forced home by Marie-Antoinette Katoto on the far post.

The pressure never relented, Kenza Dali firing a volley just over, while Courtney Brosnan was forced into a smart save by Sandie Toletti, tipping her effort from 30 yards over the bar. Kadidiatou Diani, meanwhile, was giving Mannion a torrid time down the right, the Lyon winger at the centre of much of France’s best work, while Payne was having her troubles with Cascarino on the other side.

But for all their possession and pressure, France were still just the goal up at half-time, the Irish defence having put in a hell of a shift. Apart from the occasional foray forward, with O’Sullivan leading the breaks, Ireland were causing the home side little discomfort though.

And that was the pattern for much of the second half, even after Leanne Kiernan and Amber Barrett were brought on as Ireland upped their efforts to find an equaliser. Brosnan was still the busier goalkeeper, France’s Pauline Peyraud-Magnin largely unworked.

Megan Campbell, who came on at half-time for Murphy, attempted to make good use of her lengthy throw-ins, but the French defence dealt with them comfortably enough, while Kiernan brought energy and pace to the Irish attack, but with no reward, the Liverpool forward flashing a shot wide of the left post in the dying stages when McCabe was screaming for a pass inside.

You’d like to think it’ll get easier from here on in, but next up it is reigning European champions England at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday evening. And the second-ranked nation in the world will be smarting when they arrive in Dublin, having being held to a 1-1 draw by Sweden at Wembley on Friday night. Ireland will hope that home comforts will help them add further to England’s woes.

France: Peyraud-Magnin; Périsset, Lakrar, Mbock Bathy, Karchaoui; Toletti, Dali; Diani, Geyoro, D Cascarino; Katoto.

Subs: Le Sommer for Cascarino (61 mins), Becho for Katoto (61 mins), Henry for Toletti (77 mins), Renard for Périsset (77 mins).

Ireland: Brosnan; Payne, Hayes, Louise Quinn, Patten, Mannion; Murphy, Connolly, O’Sullivan, McCabe; Carusa.

Subs: Campbell for Murphy (HT), Kiernan for Payne (63 mins), Barrett for Carusa (63 mins), Lucy Quinn for Barrett (74 mins), Stapleton for Mannion (89 mins).

Referee: Maria Caputi (Italy).

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times