“The Blues trembled until the end,” ran the post-match headline on Le Figaro’s minute-by-minute match report as France edged past Ireland in Dublin to take a maximum six points from their opening two Euro 2024 qualifiers.
Following their bravura 4-0 performance against Netherlands on Friday much had been expected of France at the Aviva. In the end, their good fortune and oddly sombre night’s work were a common theme.
As were their determination in adversity, and their - admittedly strongly tested - ability to keep a clean sheet.
After it had splashed with the redemptive goalscoring return of Benjamin Pavard following a difficult World Cup in Qatar spent mostly on the sidelines, L’Equipe’s smart match report headline on Tuesday, “Beaux Gestes” seemed positive enough.
But the opening lines of Vincent Duluc’s report left no doubt that Didier Deschamps’ squad could do better. “It’s a good thing done,” he wrote, “but done badly … Either [France] didn’t have time to get their legs back, or they left their ideas at home.”
He went on: “After their joyous performance against Netherlands, we’re not quite sure that Les Bleus deserved to win in Dublin on Monday night, where they took a hell of a beating in the last 10 minutes, and were as shaken as if they’d asked for a glass of milk in a sailors’ bar.”
More than Pavard’s strike, Mike Maignan’s late heroics between the posts were the main talking points of an evening France are probably happy enough to put behind them.
Former PSG and Marseille goalkeeper-turned-L’Equipe consultant Jérôme Alonzo underlined France’s good fortune. “The real score was 1-1, but we had Maignan,” he told the sports’ paper.
Le Monde had played it straight with its headline, “Les Bleus leave Ireland with a narrow win, but with the feeling of mission accomplished.” But then its opening paragraph launched straight into a cliched extended metaphor involving French good fortune, wishes and leprechauns.
At the end of it all, journalist Aude Lasjaunias welcomed the result, if not the performance, in a difficult Aviva Stadium, in front of a crowd that he said had been “galvanised by the prowess of the Irish rugby squad.”
Sud Ouest’s Vincent Romain, too, invoked the ghost of recent rugby matches past. “The Aviva Stadium in Dublin will not be a cursed land for French sport this year,” he said. “A month and a half after France’s rugby players lost their dreams of a Grand Slam there, their soccer counterparts did the job on Monday night.”
There was, he said, “no trace of panache” in France’s performance - especially the dour first half, which he described as being, “as long as a day without bread”.
But, he believes the gritty win will stand the new Bleus in good stead. “This kind of success snatched with teeth, guts and a little talent, too,” he wrote, “will serve to weld this new generation for this new era, [that has] started with two clean sheets and six points in two games on the road to Euro 2024.”
Le Parisien agreed. Under the headline “A trapped and uninspired attack”, Cyril Simon described the match as “a real test of character” where “nothing [could be] left to change and every inch of territory had to be fought for”.
But the consensus, too, was that - after two wins from two and with matches against Greece and Gibraltar in June, France could not hope to be in a better qualifying position. Especially after their difficult Dublin test.