Thursday 29 September 2016

Republic of Ireland fail to avenge past injustice as France end Euro 2016 hopes

Published 08/07/2016 | 15:16

Robbie Brady
Robbie Brady

Revenge, as it turns out, was not a dish best served cold - or even served at all - for the Republic of Ireland as once again France dashed their Euro 2016 hopes.

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In reality losing to the hosts in Lyon in the last 16 was a result which went with form and was certainly not as controversial as Thierry Henry's 2009 handball which denied the Irish a World Cup place.

The chance of payback after seven years of recriminations would have been a delicious one for Martin O'Neill's side - despite their insistence revenge was not a motivating factor - but France's inexorable progress to the final was not to be denied.

When Robbie Brady, the late hero against Italy in the previous round, slotted home a second-minute penalty there was a fanciful hope that this could be the day when retribution was finally exacted and the boos which rang around the Stade de Lyon at half-time only increased the pressure on the hosts.

But with the Republic tiring, having had three days' fewer to rest than their opponents, Antoine Griezmann scored twice in three minutes to dash Irish dreams once more.

"When I analyse both qualification and the group that we were put into, then I think the team has done fantastically well, hence my disappointment at not going through," said an upbeat O'Neill afterwards.

It was, however, a major comedown from the emotional high of the dramatic, late winner against Italy which saw them sneak into the knockout stage with just five minutes remaining to save their tournament.

Not that it was not deserved, having dominated against the Group E winners to secure their first European Championships win since beating England in 1988 and the first at a major tournament since defeating Saudi Arabia in 2002.

Brady's header from Wes Hoolahan's cross was enough to put them through and send O'Neill into the arms of assistant Roy Keane at the final whistle as the pair embraced as wild celebrations kicked off at pitchside, in the stands and back home.

Asked what the pair had said to each other in that moment O'Neill said: "I told him to shave his beard. It was rustling my chin and I don't want him to hug me again ever.

"We were delighted to win the game and be part of that evening and it was genuinely special.

"We felt that we were part of that evening, one not to be forgotten."

With one nod of Brady's head the demoralising 3-0 defeat to Belgium four days' previously was instantly forgotten.

Having held out against one of the pre-tournament favourites for 45 minutes their resistance was broken in the second half with two goals from Everton striker Romelu Lukaku coming either side of Alex Witsel's header.

That result left the Irish bottom of their group after managing only a draw against a Swedish side who, as it turned out, were not as strong as people thought as they exited the tournament early.

Hoolahan's well-taken half-volley was just reward for the pressure they had put their opponents under and Ciaran Clark's own goal midway through the second half was cruel luck.

Ireland's tournament started and finished in disappointment but at the end there was a sense of achievement - which would have been even greater had it not been for their old adversaries France.

Press Association

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