Wednesday 21 February 2018

It won't be easy but we'll approach France challenge in the right way - Long

Shane Long -
Shane Long - "It’s not going to be easy, but we will enjoy the challenge and we’ll approach it in the right way.” Photo: Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Aidan Fitzmaurice

Aidan Fitzmaurice

For a long time after that moment in 2009 when Thierry Henry handled the ball and helped usher Ireland out of the World Cup, French football was tainted, even shamed.

Will that shame be replaced by fear when they take on Ireland again in Lyon, once the home turf of Mick McCarthy?

Shane Long thinks that's a real possibility. "In two of our three group games, we played really well. Against Belgium, it just didn't click for us, for whatever reason, and they had the players to punish us - just like France have," he said.

"We need to learn from what went wrong against Belgium. It won't be easy but hopefully we can get the job done.

"You could go through the whole French team and they are all match-winners. But it's not just that - they play really well together.

"It's not going to be easy, but we will enjoy the challenge and we'll approach it in the right way."

Wednesday's victory will live long in Long's mind and, like the rest of the Irish players, he is hungry for more. "It was amazing to be part of it and the best thing about it was that we deserved to win," he said.

Stephen Ward wasn't on the scene with Ireland at the time of the 2009 incident but France was in his mind before a ball was kicked against Italy.

"One of the things we spoke about before the Italy game was the incentive that if we did get though we were likely to play France and how attractive that would be, to play the hosts and one of the tournament favourites," said the former Bohemians player who is battling to recover from an ankle injury in time for Sunday.

"No one expects us to go there and do anything but we have shown we can go and play against big sides, we will go and give it our best shot, so let's have a right go.

"Coming into this group we knew we'd have it tough, and we did let ourselves down against Belgium in what was a really hard game.

"But I am really pleased that we turned it around, especially for our fans who were amazing again in Lille.

"We have been in the hotel watching videos of the craic they are having and how good they are, we really wanted to do it for them. I hope they all enjoyed Wednesday and that they now enjoy Sunday as well."

A brilliant opening half in France's final group game is unlikely to persuade Didier Deschamps to reshuffle his favourite midfield for their last 16 clash against Ireland on Sunday.

France looked at their best in the first half against Switzerland, after two industrious performances, despite the game ending 0-0.

For that game Deschamps rested Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet and also made changes in midfield.

Paul Pogba shifted to the left, with Moussa Sissoko taking Blaise Matuidi's place and Yohan Cabaye deputising for N'Golo Kante in front of an unchanged defence.

In this configuration, which put Pogba on his favoured side of the pitch, Les Bleus showed great energy, with Sissoko bringing power and pace on the right flank.

Deschamps, however, is no tinkerman and he may not be willing to drop Matuidi, the midfielder he has used most since he took over from Laurent Blanc in 2012, as the competition enters the knockout phase even though the Paris Saint-Germain player looked flat against Romania and Albania.

France will keep faith with their defence, with Laurent Koscielny and Adil Rami the centre-halves and Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra on the flanks.

Up front, Payet and Antoine Griezmann will partner Giroud. The Arsenal striker missed training on Tuesday to rest a groin strain but took a full part in Wednesday's workout.

Irish Independent

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