Battling Ireland performance falls short as Pavard wonder strike claims victory for France in Euro 2024 qualifier

Ireland 0 France 1

Ireland's Chiedozie Ogbene takes on Theo Hernández of France during the Euro 2024 qualifier

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Another night of international football in Dublin where the early raucous roar of the home crowd was replaced by a sigh and acceptance of a predictable Irish fate.

Because, once again, the home side took the notion of hospitality and openness to the extreme, gifting France the one opening they needed to carve their knife into the Irish heart and drive home the advantage with a 1-0 win for a France side who may have otherwise had to settle for a draw.

There was much to take encouragement from in the Irish display as they restricted the best international team in Europe to just one goal and only three decent goal attempts, France then needing a superb save from goalkeeper Mike Maignan in the final minute to deny Nathan Collins a certain goal, and a deserved equaliser, on an evening when Kylian Mbappé was kept relatively quiet, outshone for spells by the sublime Antoine Griezmann.

But that key goal did come from an Irish error, Josh Cullen playing a pass just outside his own box to present possession to Benjamin Pavard who slammed home only the third goal of his 48-cap career.

The outcome gave weight to the theory that France will win this group but with more displays like this from Ireland, and a more clinical edge to cut out errors like Cullen’s gift to Pavard, Ireland will have a big say.

This was not an even playing field: the Ireland starting XI had six players who play their club football outside of the top flight, the French team had six starters whose clubs are still in contention to win the Champions League.

But players like Chiedozie Ogbene and Jayson Molumby made light of their lowly club status and left the field with reputations enhanced and the fact that France had to wait until the 49th minute for their first shot on target says a lot.

Given that France had the game at home to Holland last week wrapped up after eight minutes with a two-goal lead, getting to the midway point of the first half without conceding would have been seen as an achievement for Kenny’s men.

In fact they headed off for the sanctuary of the half-time break with Gavin Bazunu’s goal intact.

However, Maignan in the France goal was untroubled and untested as Ireland’s best opportunities came from set plays, a series of free-kicks and corner kicks conceded by a French defence who were more sloppy that we have come to expect but Bazunu was also having a quiet night.

Maybe the playlist for the night was set up by one early track, a French attack on eight minutes.

It had bits of what make France great and frustrating, and the way Ireland dealt with the danger was a welcome change from the open door policy at Lansdowne Road, a ground which saw the last three visitors each score two goals.

It was a sweet French move, a delicious ball over the top from Dayot Upamecano, a touch in the box by Mpappé but Bazunu made the right call by coming out to challenge, he forced Mbappé off course and Collins cleared. Bazunu was needed on 23 minutes, saving an Olivier Giroud header from Griezmann’s corner.

With so much congestion in the squeezed middle of the park, Ireland looked for joy out wide, Ogbene giving Theo Hernandez more bother than would be expected in a battle between a player from AC Milan and Rotherham, while Matt Doherty was also a force down the left.

The pity from the home side’s viewpoint was that their corner kicks were not properly used, Cullen’s delivery into the box easily dealt with by that towering partnership of Ibrahima Konaté and Upamecano. Ireland had one chance on 40 minutes when Dara O’Shea had an opportunity when a Cullen corner came his way via John Egan, but Eduardo Camavinga got there to snuff out the threat.

There was no panic from the French at this unexpected state of affairs and, sure enough, just four minutes into the second half came their goal, from an Adrien Rabiot pass which Cullen intercepted but then gifted to Pavard.

Ireland could have responded on 58 minutes with their best opportunity of the night, a burst down the wing by the impressive Ogbene and a cross to Knight, but he took one touch too many and gave Griezmann the time he needed to put in a block.

Bazunu made strong saves from sub Moussa Diaby and Rabiot, but this Irish side did not lie down and a triple substitution on 76 minutes, and a tactical switch which saw Coleman move inside to give space out wide to sub Alan Browne, injected some life into Kenny’s team.

James McClean’s first act was a poor corner kick which went right to the head of Griezmann but McClean was a threat, one shot into the side netting while Browne also fired in a shot which was just wide, and then in the closing seconds of normal time came the header from Collins, a world-class stop to deny the centre-half, the visitors then resorting to time-wasting.

The points were secured by France but this was a point made by Ireland.

Ireland: Bazunu; O'Shea (Browne 77), Collins, Egan; Coleman, Knight (Johnston 77), Molumby (Obafemi 86), Cullen, Doherty (McClean 77); Ogbene, Ferguson (Idah 65).

France: Maignan; Pavard (Kounde 81), Konaté, Upamecano; Hernandez, Camavinga, Rabiot (Tchouameni 81), Griezmann; Kolo Muani (Thuram 90), Mbappé, Giroud (Diaby 65).