LYON: Antoine Griezmann came to the rescue of hosts France as they fought back from the shock of conceding an early penalty to beat the Irish Republic 2-1 and reach the quarter-finals of ‘their’ Euro 2016 in Lyon.
The Atletico Madrid forward struck twice in four minutes early in the second half to turn the scoreline around. His pace then drew a trip which resulted in the Irish being reduced to a fatal 10 men through the expulsion of central defender Shane Duffy. The Irish worked and ran and chased in exemplary physical fashion but there was no doubt that the far better team had won the day.
Didier Deschamps’s men will now play England or Iceland in the Stade de France in Saint-Denis next Sunday.
The second round tie set off to a sensational start after Irish striker Shane Long was tripped from behind in their opening attack by Paul Pogba. Italian referee Nicola Rizzola had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot and Robbie Brady clipped his penalty kick into the net off keeper Hugo Lloris’s left-hand post with precisely two minutes gone.
That was the second-fastest goal in the Euro finals after Dmitri Kirichenko’s 68th-second strike for Russia against Greece in 2004. It was also the earliest penalty, ahead of Luka Modric’s fourth-minute spot kick goal for Croatia against Austria in 2008.
This was not the manner in which Les Bleus had anticipated starting a match they were expected to dominate in pursuit of their first European crown since the triumph over Italy in 2000.
For the Irish, it was a perfect start to a match whose run-up had been dominated by bitter recollections of the Thierry Henry handball which helped see France through to the 2010 World Cup finals at the Republic’s expense.
France responded with flurry of attacks. Griezmann put a header high over the bar and saw a shot easily gathered by Darren Randolph. West Ham’s reserve goalkeeper – only six Premier appearances this past season – then saved alertly, standing up, from a swerving free kick from Pogba.
Inbetween the Irish reminded France of their danger on the break. Lloris had to dive to his left to punch away an effort from Daryl Murphy. Lloris and France were fortunate that no Irishman was on hand to follow up.
In a frantic conclusion to the first half Irish defenders threw their bodies in the way of close-range efforts from Payet and Griezmann to reach the break still holding their fragile advantage.
France carried on in the second half as they had left off but at an even higher tempo.
Manager Deschamps replaced holding midfielder Ngolo Kante with winger Kingsley Coman and his attacking intent was rewarded in the 57th minute when Griezmann equalised with a flying header to a right-wing cross. Five minutes the Atletico Madrid forward shot France into the lead after the route to goal had been opened up by a delicate headed assist from Olivier Giroud.
Worse was to follow for Ireland with central defender Duffy being sent off for tripping Griezmann, in full flight, just outside the penalty box.
With France now in total control the only remaining mystery was how they did not increase their lead. Griezmann wasted two chances to claim a hat-trick and Andre-Pierre Gignac, substituting for Giroud, came close four times – one shot clipping the top of Randolph’s crossbar.
Somehow the Irish held on but, outnumbered, they were never able to threaten to finish the match as they had begun it.