Two goals from French striker Antoine Griezmann in a three-minute spell in the second half proved decisive as Ireland capitulated under second-half French pressure at the Stade des Lumieres in Lyon in the round of 16 game at Euro 2016.
Ireland got off to a brilliant start when early pressure forced France midfielder Paul Pogba to make a clumsy challenge on Shane Long inside the box. Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli pointed the spot, and Robbie Brady dispatched his shot to the net with some help from the post to give the Irish a third-minute lead.
The Irish team was comfortable in the first half and outplayed their much-vaunted opposition. Daryl Murphy forced a great save from Hugo Lloris and the Irish held the lead with relative ease, going into the break with a huge upset on the cards.
France manager Didier Deschamps made one change at the interval, taking off Leicester City midfielder N’Golo Kante and bringing on Kingsley Coman. Whatever Deschamps said to his team, les Bleus came out for the second period in very determined fashion, putting the Irish on the back foot from the start. That pressure eventually paid off in the 58th minute when Griezmann started and finished the move for the equalizer. The Atletico Madrid striker set up Payet to spread it wide to Manchester City full back Bacary Sagna, who delivered a great cross which Griezmann headed home past Randolph. Ireland’s woes continued just two minutes later when a long ball from the back caused havoc for the Irish central defenders. Giroud headed on to a free Griezmann, who slipped it past Darren Randolph.
James McClean has a glorious opening in the 65th minute when he slipped inside the stumbling Rami but could not find an Irish teammate inside the box to capitalize. Almost immediately the French broke upfield. Giroud played Griezmann through, and in a desperate attempt to defend, Shane Duffy brought down the French striker just outside the box. The referee reached for the red card and sent off the Irish defender for the professional foul and the challenge got all the more difficult. Martin O’Neil took off James McClean and put on John O’Shea to shore up the back.
Shortly after he made a more attacking substitution, introducing Wes Hoolahan for James McCarthy. In the searing heat of Lyon and with one man less, it was hard for Ireland to carve out any clear openings. French substitute Gignac hit the post with a shot in the 77th minute as Ireland struggled to stem the French waves of attack. The Irish defended bravely as the French completely took over. Griezmann almost scored his hat trick at the death, but Randolph saved to keep the score 2-1.
Though the Irish now exit the tournament, they can do so with their heads held high. There was no shame in the loss to the French, but the half-time change made by the French allowed Griezmann more freedom to cause chaos, and he made Martin O’Neill’s men pay dearly.