Ireland host France on Monday in their opening Euro 2024 qualifying match.
The match is forecast to be dominated by the visiting side, with the Irish expected to have to do a great deal of defensive work against the team that finished Qatar 2022 as runners-up. This underdog status may suit Stephen Kenny’s side, who come into the match off the back of a 3-2 win over Latvia in a friendly last weekend.
France, meanwhile, looked imperious against a depleted Netherlands side in Paris, running out easy 4-0 winners against a team hit by a viral problem.
Ireland, meanwhile, will expect to be dogged and frustrate Les Bleus in Dublin – and that could very well mean breaking up play with tactical fouls.
Republic of Ireland v France
Despite playing a part in the attacks leading up to Ireland’s first two goals against Latvia last week, Matt Doherty looked liked a player who has barely played this season with the Atletico Madrid man casually giving away possession in the lead up to Latvia’s first.
Doherty’s defensive shortcomings have often been exposed in a green shirt, particularly in Glasgow last year in the Nations League when the then Tottenham fullback turned his back and threw out a lazy leg allowing his opponent to skip by a send the cross in which led to the Scotland equaliser. As expected, the Scots got on top at home after that with the crowd behind them and went on to win the game.
Doherty’s stock has never recovered with some Irish fans and given his lack of club football this season he’s likely to be a target for the pacey French attack. With Doherty likely to be under relentless pressure and perhaps lacking in march sharpness he’s a good shout to make some sloppy challenges on the night.
Griezmann was one of France’s most important players during their run to the World Cup which surprised many at the time given his situation at Atletico Madrid. You may remember talk of Atletico taking advantage of a clause they had with Barcelona in regards to payments due if the French midfielder played a certain number of minutes.
However, Griezmann appeared to redefine himself in the French team during Qatar 2022 as he played deeper than we’ve seen in the past and helped turn over possession on so many occasions.
Any talk of a rift between Griezmann and Mbappe over the French captaincy was quickly dismissed on Friday with both men scoring in the 4-0 win against the Netherlands but with the Irish fans likely to whip up a great noise in Dublin tonight, Griezmann may find himself once again chasing after possession and trying to win his team the ball in dangerous areas of the pitch.
There could be a shift in position for France attacker Randal Kolo Muani ahead of Monday’s game against Ireland. Against the Netherlands, he was deployed as a centre forward but is set to make way for Olivier Giroud in that role and is set to be pitted against the dogged James McLean on the right of midfield. It is sure to be a battle, with the Irishman aiming to draw the young attacker into a dogfight. ‘RKM’, who is fouled on average 2.3 times per match with France, will likely receive more than his share of kicks.
He has shown he can dish it out, too, dealing out four fouls in his last three starts for his country. Indeed, Kolo Muani posts 1.13 fouls per 90 for France – the second highest figure of any of their likely starters in this match behind only Adrien Rabiot – and up against such a competitive opponent, that number is likely to increase rather than drop after this fixture.
It’s going to be a big night for Brighton striker Evan Ferguson, who will start his second competitive match for the Republic of Ireland against the World Cup finalists. All eyes will be on the young forward, whose performances in the Premier League and against Latvia last time out in friendly action were so impressive.
He has been billed back home as Ireland’s answer to Harry Kane and he will be eager to make a positive impression in this match. Expect him to be hyped up, and while that could result in a strong display, it is also likely to make him more prone to committing fouls against a defensive unit he will have to work hard to get any change from. He may not be a player who typically commits too many fouls – two in his last three starts – but in his brief international career, he is committing 4.1 fouls per 90 minutes.
Since the beginning of 2022, Jason Mulumby posts 1.73 fouls per 90 in the international arena, and the central midfielder is set to have another busy night defensively as he faces up against a classy France team. With Antoine Griezmann pulling the strings and Aurelien Tchouameni seeking to drive forward in possession from the centre of the pitch, France have a midfield that is the envy of most in the international game. The West Brom man will be charged with an important defensive role by Stephen Kenny but is likely to find the joint tough.
Indeed, he was booked in his last competitive match for Ireland – against Armenia in September. Although he is unlikely to last the full 90 minutes, he is likely to see ample game time to allow him to commit at least one foul. Indeed, he has committed nine fouls in his last four internationals – all of which have been against far weaker midfields than France’s.
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