Ireland come up just short after Benjamin Pavard stunner

Attacking-wise, Europe’s top ranked nation were in control either side of that goal and it took Ireland until the final 10 minutes to lay a glove on Mike Maignan
Ireland come up just short after Benjamin Pavard stunner

NET PAINS: Goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu can’t prevent Benjamin Pavard’s shot from finding the Ireland net to give France victory in Monday night’s Euro 2024 qualifier at the Aviva Stadium. Pic: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

IRELAND 0 FRANCE 1 (Benjamin Pavard 50)

After talk of fire and ice, there was some warmth to a dish the French served cold.

It didn’t need the fleet-footedness of Kylian Mbappé or Antoine Griezmann to down the Boys in Green in their campaign opener, just the punishment by Benjamin Pavard of a loose square pass by the usually faultless Josh Cullen five minutes into the second half.

Pavard’s name hasn’t figured much in the narrative around the Mbappé Generation narrative, after a dispute with Didier Deschamps during the World Cup, but he justified his return to the side by arrowing a shot beyond Gavin Bazunu – the latest concession by Ireland from outside the box.

Attacking-wise, Europe’s top ranked nation were in control either side of that goal and it took Ireland until the final 10 minutes to lay a glove on Mike Maignan.

James McClean, on as a sub for the final 13 minutes, forced the AC Milan player to turn the ball onto the post from Ireland’s first shot on target before the keeper produced two saves from successive corners as the game lurked into stoppage time.

First, he was up to fingertip over a header by his own player, Jules Koundé, but then came his coup de grâce to Ireland’s chance of a point, pawing a powerful header from Nathan Collins as it was destined for the top corner.

It marked an uplifting end to a night that suggested Ireland will compete with the Dutch for the second qualifying spot behind the formidable French. All they have to do now is avoid regression in June away to Greece.

For his team selection, Stephen Kenny shook up his team from the laborious win over lowly Latvia, some expected and others not so.

While it was no surprise to see Gavin Bazunu return in goal, through no fault of Caoimhín Kelleher, and the availability of Séamus Coleman made him a guaranteed starter, Michael Obafemi being dropped wouldn’t have been anticipated when the squad first assembled.

Obafemi is renowned for his blistering pace but likewise Chiedozie Ogbene carries velocity and his goal when sent on from the bench to retrieve a win against the Baltic minnow thrust him into contention.

It was a call soon vindicated, for the Corkman’s role of running the channels as an outball to relieve the pressure worked a treat during a first half they gradually grew into.

On two occasions, darts by Ogbene had Théo Hernandez scrambling, forcing the left-back into mistimed challenges that earned free-kicks in dangerous areas.

Yet there was no Shane Duffy in the box for Ireland to maximise a familiar ploy during the earlier part of Kenny’s reign and both of Josh Cullen’s deliveries came to nothing.

Ogbene had given the full-house their Keane-Overmars moment by not just halting an opening 70 seconds of France possession from their kick-off but winning a free-kick off their captain Kylian Mbappé in the process.

It may have contributed to the French being a shadow of their swashbuckling self, the version that serrated the Netherlands with three goals inside the opening 21 minutes on Friday.

By that stage on their first away trip, all they’d mustered was one sight of goal and that was suffocated by the Bazunu’s clever agility.

One glance and subsequent lob from classy defender Dayot Upamecano dissected the Ireland defence, allowing Randal Kolo Muani ghost across from his right channel. His first touch was heavy, despite the abundance of space, and the presence of Bazunu forced the attacker wide. Drifting away from goal, his backheel wasn’t converted by Oliver Giroud, under pressure from John Egan, and the danger was cleared by Nathan Collins.

Mbappé was being ably minded by Coleman, often assisted by Ogbene dropping back to double-up, but the player currently regarded as the best in Europe, illustrated his explosive repertoire on 24 minutes by winning a corner that Antoine Griezmann floated in.

Giroud rose first to connect, only for a combination of blocks by Egan and Coleman to take the sting out of his header and Bazunu gathered.

Without cutting Ireland open, the visitors were still bossing possession. Much was expected of Evan Ferguson, rather unfairly given his tender years, but his prime contribution in a frustrating half was ambling back to kick the ball away as France lined up a free-kick. He’ll have better days, being withdrawn for Adam Idah on 65 minutes and still having the pre-match words of praise from Mbappé. 

Instead, a succession of corners and free-kicks Ireland won roused the home crowd, enabling the hosts to complete the half with at least a degree of territorial dominance.

Sadly, their failure to achieve first contact on any of Cullen’s deliveries – especially in the air – had the French cruising into the break. Griezmann’s header that flashed wide was closer than anything conjured where it mattered.

A policy of containment, whatever different blueprint Kenny spoke of in advance, was effective, yet lacking the penetration in the final third to capitalise.

France didn’t even need a member of their gilded attacking club to force the breakthrough, as Pavard rampaged from his full-back position to nestle a stunner.

He probably couldn’t believe the naivety of Ireland gifting him the sight when they so easily could have avoided it.

An exchange between Mbappé and Adrien Rabiot seemed innocuous when a stray ball fell at Cullen but his lay-off from the edge of the D to Jason Knight was intercepted by the Bayern Munich defender, who needed one touch before rifling his right-footer above the outstretched arm of Bazunu and into the top corner.

Cue a raft of French players celebrating with the small travelling support at the Havelock Square end and the cue for a purple patch in which they could have added to their lead.

Griezmann’s 20-yard free was deflected off the wall before two saves from Bazunu kept Ireland with the narrowest of deficits to bridge.

Knight, operating in the third tier of English football lest we forget, was easily brushed off the ball by Rabiot on 68 minutes, swiftly feeding Griezmann who in turned played in substitute Moussa Diaby to force the goalkeeper to dive across his goal and palm away.

Kolo Muani was next to get some joy in the Ireland box but scuffed his shot. Rabiot worked the goalkeeper with a low drive that he batted away with one hand.

That was the last time that France threatened, for Ireland eventually came alive for the final 10 minutes.

It was too little, too late – a harsh lesson of the margins when inhabiting the senior hurling sphere.

IRELAND (3-5-2): G Bazunu; N Collins, J Egan, D O’Shea (A Browne 78); S Coleman, J Molumby (M Obafemi 86), J Cullen, J Knight (M Johnston 77), J McClean, M Doherty (J McClean 77); C Ogbene, E Ferguson (A Idah 65).

FRANCE: (4-2-3-1): M Maignan; B Pavard (J Koundé 81), I Konaté, D Upamecano, T Hernandez; A Rabiot (A Tchouaméni 81), E Camavinga; R Kolo Muani (M Thurman 90+1), A Griezmann, K Mbappé; O Giroud (M Diaby 65).

Referee: Artus Dias (POR). 

Attendance: 50,219.

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