Antoine Griezmann’s quick double ends Irish dream
Robbie Brady had given Martin O’Neill’s side a dream start with second-minute penalty
Robbie Brady celebrates with Republic of Ireland team-mate Stephen Ward after scoring from the penalty spot in the European Championship Round Of 16 match at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
France striker Antoine Griezmann celebrates after scoring the equaliser in the Round of 16 game against the Republic of Ireland at Stade de Lyon. Photograph: Mast Irham/EPA
There may a great deal more to come from this team when the task of qualifying for the next World Cup begins in the autumn but Ireland’s European Championship was ended rather decisively in Lyon where France came from behind to win well as their opposition’s earlier exertions caught up with them comprehensively.
Martin O’Neill’s side led for more than half the game and held their own for a good part of that but in the end it was their legs rather than their luck that deserted them; that, perhaps, and the inexperience of a central defensive partnership that had been rightly hailed for its efforts four days ago in Lille.
The manager had suggested that he would be as adventurous here as he had been there and by naming the same starting 11 he was probably more so. Sadly, though, his luck ran out and the gamble of not making changes might be viewed, with hindsight, as a contributory factor in the defeat.
Certainly France, who had a week to recover from a game they hadn’t needed to win, were by far the fresher and as the afternoon wore on it became increasingly clear that they simply had too much energy and attacking zeal for an increasingly tired Irish defence to cope with.
Robbie Brady had given his side a second minute lead from the penalty spot and after Antoine Griezmann had scored the first of his two second-half goals, they should really have gone in front again but James McClean’s cross for Daryl Murphy was simply not good enough. Whether they could have held on even had they scored at that point is questionable, to be fair, but after Shane Duffy was sent off for a foul on Griezmann with the score at 2-1, there was only going to be one winner and the only surprise at the final whistle was that the French had not grabbed themselves another goal or two.
Afterwards, an emotional Darren Randolph was consoled by Shay Given but there was little more that he or anybody in front of him could have done. The word beforehand was that if Ireland were to go out they would do so with a bang rather than a whimper and there was no faulting the players’ effort. The simple fact was that for the last half an hour, they were running almost entirely on empty
They could not, for all that, have produced a better start with the side making its collective intentions abundantly clear from the off. They pressed forward almost from the word go and after Stephen Ward and Daryl Murphy had both won aerial challenges the ball ran behind Shane Long, who was clumsily bundled over by Paul Pogba as the sought to retrieve it.
It all bore a stark resemblance to the foul on McClean on Wednesday night but this time there was no hesitation on the part of the referee and Brady stepped up to send Hugo Lloris the wrong way with a spot kick that when in off the foot of the right-hand post.
The host side’s fans were clearly shocked, and though the Irish over to the left of where the goal was scored celebrated wildly, they must already have been wondering just how their side might cope with leading the twice tournament champions through the 88 minutes still to play.
As it turned out, they sought to defend the lead much as they sought to establish one in their last group game. There was rather less finesse here against opponents who were clearly more motivated than the Italians had been. But O’Neill’s men showed all the fierce determination they had last time out and there were plenty of moments to admire as they repeatedly looked to turn occasionally desperate defending into attack.
They were more successful at times and for stretches here it looked as though, if they were to win, it would have to be a good deal more of the backs to the wall and catch them on the break of the Germany victory than the more front-footed one in midweek. There were decent spells, though, primarily over the course of the first half when Jeff Hendrick again looked outstanding and Brady, Long and McClean moved the ball about with a fluency that we have very rarely seen from Irish sides of late against quality opposition.
Behind them James McCarthy and both full backs looked impressive and Ireland won a good deal of possession, only some of it because of errors by a French side that seemed a little unsure how to proceed after a strong spell immediately after the penalty had subsided.
Their coach had a plan, though, with Didier Deschamps going all in at the break by replacing the impressive N’Golo Kante with the much quicker, more attack-minded Kinsgley Coman and changing from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1. As the pace increased and Griezmann came to life again so the Irish started to struggle.
The Atletico star then struck twice in the space of scarcely three minutes to completely transform the proceedings with poor marking allowing him to head home Bacary Sagna’s cross unchallenged.The defending for the second was much worse with both defenders going to Olivier Giroud who promptly released his team-mate who, in turn, finished well.
When the 25-year-old raced clear again moments later, Duffy had little option but to try something and though there wasn’t an awful lot to the foul, he had no complaints either when the referee reached for his red card.
The fans might reflect on the chances he and others had at different times to add to the opening goal but France’s 60 per cent possession and 10 shots on target to Ireland’s two give a pretty fair indication of the balance of play.
FRANCE: Lloris; Sagna, Rami, Koscielny, Évra; Pogba, Kanté (Coman, half-time; Sissoko, 90+4 mins), Matuidi; Griezmann, Giroud (Gignac, 73 mins), Payet.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Randolph; Coleman, Duffy, Keogh, Ward; Hendrick, McCarthy (Hoolahan, 71 mins), Brady, McClean (O’Shea, 68 mins); Long, Murphy (Walters, 65 mins).
Referee: N Rizzoli (Italy).