Euphoria swept through the Irish squad following Wednesday’s victory over Italy, but Shane Long was unable to banish the Belgian blues as he looked ahead to the challenge posed by France in Sunday’s Euro 2016 last-16 tie.
The Italians exhibited nothing like the class of Belgium and the Ireland striker believes France’s fluid style is a warning to his squad the degree of slackness evident in Bordeaux will be capitalised upon were it to seep in again at the weekend.
“We played well in two of our three games because it just didn’t click for us against Belgium,” Long said of the 3-0 reverse suffered last Saturday. “Like Belgium, France have the players to punish us, so we need to learn from that defeat by playing as a unit.”
Martin O’Neill’s players took onboard his instructions to start against the Italians on the front foot, rather than the back one they relied upon five days earlier.
“We didn’t just sit back against Italy, soak up pressure and nick a goal,” explained the Tipperary native. “That winner was coming throughout the game because we deserved the three points. I thought we caused them a lot of problems, pressed them out wide, forced them into mistakes and we passed it into good positions.
“It was a tough game to play in and I think at the end people could see I was just empty. The feeling of qualifying for the knockout stages, though, makes it all worthwhile.”
Daryl Murphy, given his first action of the tournament as a starter alongside Long up front on Wednesday, accepts Ireland face the host nation without the pressure of being favourites but doesn’t want the Euro odyssey to terminate in Lyon.
“We’re always underdogs going into most games and I think we like that,” he reasons. “Teams know by now they’re not going to get an easy game against us but this is what this competition is all about, playing against the best teams and the best players. To be part of that is something special
“I’ve played in some of the big games over the past year against the likes of Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina. We got good results so there’s no reason why another one can’t be achieved against the French.
“At this level, if you make a silly decision by switching off for a second, teams punish you. We defended really well against Italy and, apart from their shot which clipped the post, they didn’t trouble us.”
Ireland’s goalkeeper Darren Randolph possesses some insight about France’s dangerman, Dimitri Payet, having trained with him throughout last season at West Ham.
“Yeah, he’s done some shooting practice on me but that’s in the past and doesn’t really matter,” insists Randolph.
“There is more caution, rather than fear, when facing the likes of France. You really can’t go running around chasing the ball because you will get picked off and it will get embarrassing.
“Still, I don’t think you could play against these players every week if there was fear.”
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