UEFA EURO 2016 Analysis – Round of 16 Knockout Phase – France vs Republic of Ireland
Welcome to the first post of my UEFA Euro 2016 Anaysis. Today I will be looking at what I believe was one of the most compelling fixtures of the tournament so far. The hosts faced an Ireland side still riding the high of a stunning 1-0 victory over Italy that gave them qualification to this stage. France were backed strongly by the bookies and judging by their performances so far, rightly so. However, if the Ireland that took down Italy showed up instead of the one that was pushed aside by Belgium, then we were in for a fascinating contest.
France reverted to a more familiar line up following the changes made for the last game of the group stages against Switzerland; Dimitri Payet, Olivier Giroud, Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kante all returning. Ireland named an unchanged line up from the side that beat Italy.
A series of fortunate events for Ireland, and misfortune for France with Adil Rami slipping and missing a headed clearance, saw a penalty awarded in their favour after just one minute. A Stephan Ward cross found Shane Long in the box who was clumsily bowled over by Paul Pogba, leaving referee Nicola Rizzoli with no choice but to give a penalty. Robbie Brady dispatched the spot kick with authority, going in via the post, and the entire complexion of the match was changed.
It was interesting to take note of how both sides would handle the added pressure of that early goal to Ireland. First, would Ireland change their approach, if at all, now that they were in an unlikely favourable situation? Second, how would France handle the situation mentally? Would they try to rush everything in search of that equalizer? The early goal made for one of the most interesting matches of the tournament so far.
France Throwing Bodies Forward
The next fifteen minutes understandably forced France onto the front-foot, this figure here showing how many bodies they threw forward when in possession.
Here we can see France attempt to overload Ireland’s defence. Keep in mind that out of frame is Patrice Evra at left back, offering a wide option just behind Pogba.
Paul Pogba was given the most freedom out of the three central midfielders, roaming to wherever he chose, seen in the frame above out wide to the left. He often took up positions alongside Olivier Giroud inside or at the edge of the box to offer a target from crosses. Kante and Matuidi were given stricter roles, usually to offer passing options for the centre halves, recycle possession or blocking any space left behind by France’s attacking full backs. It didn’t take the Euro 2016 hosts long to create openings, a pin point cross from deep by Griezmann so close to picking out Giroud for the equalizer, Shane Duffy just nudging it away from the target man.
Ireland focused mostly on direct balls into the channels, Robbie Brady making a great run on 14 minutes drifting very wide from a central starting position to stretch the French back four and create space. Shane Long was also a constant nuisance for France with his movement and pace. James McCarthy’s importance to the side was seen clearly on 14 and a half minutes, when Stephen Ward was out of his left back position and Griezmann ran at pace at the Irish backline. McCarthy filled the gap and made the vital intervention, France offering a glimpse of what they’re capable of on the counter.
Stephan Ward presses very high to close down N’Golo Kante.
Kante goes past Ward and finds Griezmann out wide. McCarthy steps across to put out the danger, an example of the areas of the pitch he was asked to provide cover.
Ireland Organized and Direct
Ireland held their nerve throughout the remainder of the half, doing a fantastic job of minimizing French chances at goal. Dimitri Payet was perhaps the least influential player on the pitch during the half as a result of Ireland’s discipline and organization. They continued to play with an aggressive and direct style, with free kicks into the area and long throws being their biggest threat. A Stephen Ward long throw into the box created a half-chance for Daryl Murphy, testing Hugo Lloris with a snapshot on the turn. Ireland also never hesitated to get crosses into the box when in advanced wide positions, however, the quality of those crosses were mostly poor.
Constant fouls stifled the flow of the game, with two yellow cards for each side being handed out before the break. France were unable to gain control over the tempo of the game, very rarely were they seen knocking the ball around freely and pinning Ireland deep into their own half. This may have been as a result of often looking for Giroud too early; Giroud himself involved in a great physical battle against Ireland’s centre halves.
First Signs of Breakthrough
It took until the final moments of the half for France to seriously threaten Randolph in goals for Ireland. Payet’s shot from inside the area was blocked by a sea of onrushing Irish defenders desperate to throw their bodies on the line in order to keep the lead.
Griezmann is afforded a rare chance to get his head up and play the ball to the feet of Giroud. Matuidi makes the run on the right hand side and Payet stays in a central position.
Once the ball is played the two Irish centre halves are drawn towards Giroud, who plays a simple lay off into the path of Payet who is still unmarked.
Ireland is now incredibly narrow, with Richard Keogh stepping up to close down Payet, leaving a back three. Keogh is unable to stop Payet playing out wide for Matuidi who has acres of space for a cross.
The cross falls for Giroud, whose layoff finds Payet. He drifts inside on his left foot and forces a block from the Irish defenders. It was the first moment of real vulnerability shown from Ireland, and also the first time France had broken them down with quick passing and intelligent movement off the ball.
Didier Deschamps made a sensible substitution by taking off the yellow carded N’Golo Kante for Kingsley Coman, further showing their need to take the game to Ireland. The tempo of the game quickened as France continued their search for the equalizer. France picked up where they left off in the first half, an early chance falling for Laurent Koscielny, his diving header from a Dimitri Payet free kick going wide. The turning point of the game can perhaps be from Hugo Lloris’ touch on a James McClean cross. The Irish winger seemed to have picked out Shane Long who was lurking at the back post, surely he would have tapped home Ireland’s second and given them serious thoughts of qualification to the quarter finals if not for a brilliant interception by Lloris.
France’s persistence was rewarded in the 57th minute as Griezmann popped up inside the area to head home the equalizer. Once again it was an example of France moving the ball quickly from side to side and stretching the Irish backline, causing indecision.
Shane Duffy comes across to deal with the high ball and contests with Giroud. Seamus Coleman is behind Blaise Matuidi here.
Matuidi receives the ball and stands up strong against Coleman, also drawing in Duffy and passing the ball centrally for Griezmann. The Atletico man takes a touch in the direction of Coman, evades the on-rushing McCarthy’s lunge and receives the return pass from Coman. The distance between Ireland’s centre halves is huge, McCarthy and Coleman in between them.
Griezmann receives the lay-off with back to goal, but a simple pass back to Payet reveals just how narrow and out of its usual organization Ireland’s backline is.
Payet stretches the play and finds Bakary Sagna, with time and space to get the cross into the box. It seems as though when he finds Griezmann, pretty much right on the penalty spot to head home, no one in the Irish defence knows who is meant to be marking him.
France Take the Lead
Ireland seemed to be stunned by their opponent’s equalizer as they proceeded to concede again some three minutes later in truly uncharacteristic fashion. The usually organized and disciplined defence failed to identify the danger and were rightly punished when Giroud and Griezmann combined.
Ireland’s defence has not shuffled over quickly enough to deal with Giroud’s run. Communication between centre halves could have allowed for Duffy to stay put and alarm Keogh of Giroud’s run, but either way the back four is way too spread out here.
Giroud makes his run across the back four, bringing Shane Duffy with him. The long ball from Rami actually ends up closer to Keogh, who perhaps would have benefitted from his central defensive partner from staying put after being beaten in the air. From second viewing you find that Duffy tracks Giroud’s run but does not challenge him in the air. The knock down falls beautifully in Griezmann’s path. Notice Seamus Coleman’s position, out wide at right back, absolutely nowhere near the danger.
Griezmann is offered so much time and space to fire at Randolph’s goal and send France to the quarters.
Ireland Open Up and Down to Ten
Ireland’s sudden change in situation required them to open up and commit more bodies forward in search of an equalizer. They may very well have had one if James McClean was able to keep his composure and make the right decision in the 64th minute. Once again showing Ireland’s desire to play the ball into the channels, Stephan Ward’s long ball out towards McClean on the left hand side left the winger one on one with Rami in a wide position. Rami, without any cover, was forced to run towards his own goal as the ball headed for the byline. McClean’s change of pace was able to get him in front of the centre back in a wide position, opting to cut back for Shane Long at the edge of the area rather than play the ball square for Daryl Murphy who appeared to be in line for a tap in. Koscielny was able to read the play, clear the danger and the chance was gone.
The cruel nature of football was in full swing as Ireland were reduced to ten men some sixty seconds following this chance. Ireland gave the ball away cheaply from a throw in and with eight players out of the equation, Giroud and Griezmann combined once again to create havoc amongst the chasm of space afforded to them by Ireland. Giroud played the ball into space for Griezmann and, with only Randolph left to beat, Shane Duffy lunged in desperation to bring him down just outside the box. As the last man there was little decision making to be done for the match official, quickly showing a red card. Following this moment, the fact that Ireland had three less days of rest really began to show, often chasing French shadows as they enjoyed possession.
France Relax and Gignac Chances
France were now content to have longer spells of possession and knock the ball side to side, the impetus placed firmly upon an undermanned Ireland to try to force extra time with an equalizer. Andre-Pierre Gignac was introduced in place of Giroud and had quite an eventful 15-minute cameo. He hit the cross bar from about 16 yards out after coming inside on his preferred right foot, fired just wide at the near post from a Matuidi cross and scuffed his lines from a Kingsley Coman pull-back. Randolph was also forced into an excellent save by Griezmann in added time after Payet slipped him in behind the defence. It was very similar to the run he made in the build-up to the winning goal, this time Randolph stood strong to deny him his hat trick.
An entertaining game of football where France’s quality and persistence eventually overcame a stubborn and brave Ireland. A fantastic watch for the neutrals and I’m sure it was a heart-wrenching one for both France and Ireland fans, especially with the situation of the game changing so early in the match. France dealt with the pressure of being behind for the first time this tournament well and did not panic in key moments, while Ireland also deserve credit for an organized and battling display despite the small lapses in concentration which ultimately cost them the game. France are surely looking likely to go far in the tournament; they play the winner of England vs Iceland.
So, what did you think of my first entry to the UEFA EURO 2016 Analysis? Would you like to see more? Let us know in the comments section below.