Antoine Griezmann's double edges hosts France past 10-man Republic of Ireland
Published 26/06/2016 | 16:16
Antoine Griezmann kept France on track for Euro 2016 glory as the hosts survived a major scare to edge the Republic of Ireland 2-1.
Griezmann's second-half double, which came inside three crucial minutes, fired his side into the quarter-finals as they eventually showed their class at the Stade de Lyon.
However, for almost an hour, Ireland, who ended the game down to 10 men after central defender Shane Duffy was dismissed for a professional foul on the Atletico Madrid star, had threatened to gatecrash the party.
They took a second-minute lead through Robbie Brady's nerveless penalty after Paul Pogba's rash challenge on Shane Long, and France were booed off by a section of their own support at the break as they failed to rectify the damage.
But, as Martin O'Neill's men tired - they last played against Italy on Wednesday night, some three days after the French completed their group-stage matches - the hosts grew in strength and eventually ran out more comfortable winners than the scoreline suggests.
If Irish hearts has been broken by Swedish referee Martin Hansson's failure to spot Thierry Henry's handball at the Stade de France in November 2009, they were not to suffer again at the hands of Italian official Nicola Rizzoli.
The game was barely a minute old when Pogba barged Long to the ground inside the France penalty area, and Mr Rizzoli stunned the home crowd by pointing to the spot.
With Robbie Keane and Jonathan Walters sitting on the bench, it was Brady who stepped up to send Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris the wrong way and watch as the ball cannoned off the foot of the post into the net to send the massively outnumbered contingent from Ireland into ecstasy.
France's response came predictably swiftly as they pinned Ireland back deep inside their own half for long periods, although goalkeeper Darren Randolph enjoyed a largely uneventful first half.
He had to field a free-kick from West Ham team-mate Dimitri Payet which never threatened to over-extend him, and he was similarly untroubled by efforts from Griezmann and Pogba as the half wore on, although Lloris had to claw away a 21st-minute effort from Daryl Murphy - still awaiting his first senior goal for his country - while Duffy headed just wide.
With France dominating possession, aided by the industry of midfield general N'Golo Kante, O'Neill's men were having to defend deep and in numbers and, as the game became increasingly physical, Kante, Jeff Hendrick and Adil Rami all picked up bookings which meant they would miss the quarter-final should their side progress.
They very nearly got their reward in stoppage time when, after a flowing moved had left Pogba in space on the right, Payet accepted his pass and cut inside before seeing Stephen Ward block his shot with Duffy equally resilient from Griezmann's follow-up.
Having seen his players booed off by some members of the crowd at half-time, France boss Didier Deschamps withdrew enforcer Kante to send on the pacy Kingsley Coman, but it was central defender Laurent Koscielny who very nearly got theme back into the game when he glanced Payet's 48th-minute free-kick just wide.
Irish chances were few and far between, although Lloris did have to be alert to deny Long a 52nd-minute tap-in after James McClean had crossed from the left.
The pressure on their own goal was mounting by the minute, though, and, having seen Payet drag an effort wide, Randolph had to dive to his right to palm away Blaise Matuidi's well-struck 56th-minute shot.
But the French breakthrough was coming and, when it arrived, it did so in devastating style as the Republic's dreams were torn apart inside eight catastrophic minutes.
Payet picked out full-back Bacary Sagna on the right and his cross was inch-perfect for Griezmann to rise and head firmly past Randolph, to the immense relief of his countrymen.
However, his afternoon had only just started in earnest and just three minutes more had elapsed when he ran on to Olivier Giroud's expert knock-down and beat the keeper with an assured left-footed finish.
Griezmann was not finished as his 66th-minute run in behind the Irish defence prompted an ill-advised tackle by Duffy which earned him a red card and his increasingly beleaguered side any chance of a fightback.
Wednesday night's exertions took their toll on the 10 men as France attacked in waves throughout the closing stages, but the Republic did not suffer any further punishment as they battled all the way to the whistle.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"Unlucky Ireland. Superb campaign. Think you lost to the eventual winners there, personally. #EURO2016" - Actor Ralf Little (@RalfLittle)
Darren Randolph: 7
Seamus Coleman (Capt): 6
Shane Duffy: 6
Richard Keogh: 5
Stephen Ward: 6
Jeff Hendrick: 6
James McCarthy (Hoolahan, 72 mins): 5
Robbie Brady: 7
James McClean (O'Shea, 68 mins): 7
Daryl Murphy (Walters, 65 mins): 6
Shane Long: 7
Jonathan Walters: 6
John O'Shea: 5
Wes Hoolahan: 5
Robbie Brady has grown in stature as the tournament has worn on and demonstrated his maturity with another fine individual display and the opening goal with a nerveless penalty.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Antoine Griezmann's double may have proved decisive, but it was Robbie Brady's penalty which set up the game he sent keeper Hugo Lloris the wrong way to give Ireland a shock lead, although his heart may have skipped a beat as his effort struck the inside of the post before nestling in the net.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Didier Deschamps will have been intensely frustrated at the way his side was unable to hurt Ireland before the break, but thrilled with how they responded after it. Opposite number Martin O'Neill always knew fatigue would be an issue for his battle-weary troops, but he can only have been proud of what he saw.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
France may have taken both the Ireland team and its fans to its collective heart, but there was no love lost at the Stade de Lyon as they complained often and bitterly over perceived time-wasting.
WHO'S UP NEXT
France v England/Iceland, Euro 2016 (Sunday, 3 July)
Republic of Ireland captain Seamus Coleman told ITV Sport: ''We're disappointed. We felt like it was there for us. We gave our all going into this tournament and we're just so disappointed at the minute, but I suppose that shows how well we've done that we're disappointed at losing.
''Our fans were unbelievable and we'd have loved to go a bit further for them but we hope we made people proud because our fans are amazing and the support back home is amazing and, as I said, we're just disappointed that we couldn't see it out.
''We only had a little corner of the ground but the fans were so loud and so positive towards us at the end and it's a special bond between the fans and the players.
''We took a lot of belief from the Italy game and I think the Belgium game did well for us in the fact that we realised how poor we were. But the second half was always going to be tough for us and we played well but we just couldn't keep the door closed for long enough, which is disappointing.
''The red card was one of those challenges where the lad was probably going to score if Shane didn't try to make the challenge. But Shane, even though he got sent off today, has been unbelievable and with Shane, Jeff (Hendrick), Robbie (Brady) and James (McClean) there's a bright future.''
France full-back Patrice Evra told ITV Sport: ''It was difficult, that's why I want to congratulate the Irish team because they were tough and it was a great game. They played a good tournament and all the fans and the Irish people should be proud of their team.
"We knew it would be difficult, no one game is easy in this tournament and I knew it would be difficult today and with the win I am really happy with my team-mates but as I say I congratulate all of the Irish players.
"In the first half we didn't play our football, so in the second half we said 'we are at home, we can't go out of this tournament and we should play our football with a lot of personality and try to win the game'.
''We were confident to not go out of this competition but we knew that if we had to die on the pitch, then that's what we'll do.
''It (England) would be a tough game again but we should stop saying it will be England, let's see.
"They play against Iceland and they are really difficult. But if it is England it will be a special game for me because I have some great memories of English football and Manchester United.
"I played nine years there and it would be special to see some of my ex team-mates like Wazza (Wayne Rooney).''