Hosts France haven’t quite lived up to the billing of pre tournament favourites after requiring two late winners in their opening two group matches and Didier Deschamps side were then held to a goalless draw by Switzerland last Sunday that said they still managed to come out of Group A on top and they know that the tournament for real starts this Afternoon as they play host to the Republic Of Ireland
Didier Deschamps has come into criticism in regards to him not knowing what his best side is and he will have to work that out soon because there are no second chances now that we have reached the Round of 16. Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Dimitri Payet, Oliver Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Kingsley Coman have all spent time on the bench during the first three group games so who will be trusted with starting against the Irish,
For all the worries that they would be weak at the back with Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane or Chelsea’a Kurt Zouma for that matter they have only conceeded 1 goal so far and none from open play with only Bogdan Stancu’s spot kick on the opening night being the only effort to breach Hugo Lloris’ net
They will have to be resolute at the back again as they go up against a Republic Of Ireland side who are fresh off of beating Italy in their final Group E game. Robbie Brady’s dramatic 87th minute winner was enough for them to sneak through as one of the 4 best 3rd place sides. After being drubbed Belgium in the previous game the wave of optimism in back in the Irish camp
Yes they were probably done a favour by the fact that Italy had the luxury of resting 6 players after already securing top spot in Group C but at the end of the day Martin O’Neill’s side can only beat what is front of them and it’s fair to say they were good value for their late win on Wednesday night
Robbie Brasy has been arguably their star performer but credit must also go to Jeff Hendrick and Wes Hoolahan. Although it should have been Hoolahan as the hero on Wednesday as he fluffed a guilt edged chance to put Ireland in front but thankfully he atoned for his earlier error by teeing up the cross for Brady to head home with just 3 minutes left on clock.
This game will obviously evoke memories of Thierry Henry’s handball in 2009. Ireland were just minutes away from Penalties to decide who would be going to South Africa only for Henry to score the most controversial goal in the Republic’s history, how the boys in green would love to exact some revenge for that this Afternoon
It will certainly be a party atmosphere in Lyon that is for sure but unfortunately for the Irish I think this where the party will end for them as France should have enough talent at their disposal to move onto the Quarter Finals. Didier Deschamps has all the right pieces of the jigsaw can he now put them together. Thankfully for the host nation I think he will finally work it out Today. France to win for me.