Game of the Week: France vs. Republic of Ireland, Lyon, 15:00
If I could be in any part of France right now, (admittedly, I will be in Nice for the England game, which isn’t all that bad) it would have to be Lyon because France vs. Republic of Ireland is just going to be a damn party.
You would have to live under an actual stone (or just not have Facebook) to not have seen the Irish fan frivolities over in France. Whilst the British media filter back stories of violence on the streets, the Irish media must be having a bloody field day as Ireland fans head out to France and genuinely look like they are having a good time. Whether it be singing to a Nun on a train, serenading French girls or singing along with the French police, everyone loves the Irish and now the shamrock party bus heads to Lyon to face the hosts.
As the various groups ended, it has come as some surprise to me at least that no one really gives a damn about France anymore. No one really speaks of them as favourites or mentions them when it comes to referencing a performance of note; they just sort of exist as a host nation. Is this because no one actually things France will win the Euros? Or is it more to do with the fact that the headlines are elsewhere? I think it’s a little bit of both.
This, in my opinion at least, has been a very good tournament. The football has been exciting despite not masses of goals and teams like Hungary, Albania and Northern Ireland have turned up as minnows only to genuinely surprise and throw spanners in the works of larger nations. Wales qualifying top, the 3-3 between Portugal and Hungary, Republic of Ireland’s defeat of Italy, Spain losing to Croatia are examples of more noteworthy news that France drawing with Switzerland.
Les Blues have been unconvincing throughout. For a team littered with such sparkling quality, they have under-whelmed, and as the tournament looks elsewhere for the magic needed to keep things exciting but maybe, just maybe, this is what France needed – to start going under the radar.
For the Republic of Ireland, Euro 2016 has always seemed a game-at-a-time kind of party and with a group of Italy, Belgium and Sweden the Irish could have been forgiven for thinking their journey was going to be a 3-game love affair on the continent. They now found themselves in the knock-outs after Robbie Brady’s 85th minute header against the Italians and now head to Lyon with Dimitri Payet and co. awaiting them.
In the one game where Ireland have faced a superior opponent who needed the win in this tournament, they duly came undone as Belgium beat them 3-0. A 1-1 draw against a woeful Sweden side and a the 1-0 win against a much changed Italian side saw them progress but in footballing terms, Republic of Ireland look like the least capable home nation of navigating their knock out game.
Republic of Ireland versus France is a game that in recent memory has the air of unfinished business, after Thierry Henry’s handball against the Irish in 2009 meant that Ireland missed out on the 2010 World Cup. However much the Irish players play down the event, this underlying narrative is one that will come to dominate the pre-match build up in the press and Martin O’Neil will have to make sure that his players don’t ride on emotions of Irish public heading into this game this afternoon.
This Ireland side seems to the side where you don’t really know what you are going to get come game day. Their performances have been mixed to mirror their results but Martin O’Neil and Roy Keane will be hoping that it is the Ireland that faced Italy rather than Belgium that will turn up in Lyon.
For France, they need a statement performance. They need to go out there and score some goals before the 80th minute mark. Yes they score late goals, but they are yet to play a real good side in this tournament and the longer they continue to leave it late, the more questions that will be asked of Didier Deschamps.
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog