Having begun the Kylian Mbappe captaincy era in sensational fashion, France resume their Euro 2024 qualifying bid in Group B with a trip to Dublin to meet the Republic of Ireland on Monday.
Les Bleus put four past the Netherlands without reply on Friday evening, while Stephen Kenny’s men survived quite the scare to edge past Latvia in a five-goal friendly.
Scoring one of the finest long-range goals that the Aviva Stadium has ever seen, Roberts Uldrikis would spark an immediate Latvia fightback against Ireland, who stormed into a 2-0 lead within the first 20 minutes of Wednesday’s friendly courtesy of Callum O’Dowda and Evan Ferguson’s efforts.
However, Caoimhin Kelleher was undone by Uldrikis’s stunning strike from distance before a deflected Arturs Zjuzins effort brought Latvia level just before the break, but the Liverpool number two’s blushes were spared when Chiedozie Ogbene netted the game’s fifth and final goal barely a minute after coming off the bench.
With exhibition games now consigned to history for the time being, Ireland commence their bid to reach the continental finals for just the fourth time, having previously reached Euro 1988, Euro 2012 and Euro 2016 – getting as far as the last 16 in the latter competition before Slovakia-inflicted penalty heartache ended their dreams of Euro 2020 participation.
Unsurprisingly failing to topple either Portugal or Serbia in their World Cup qualifying section, the Boys in Green are facing an unforgiving task to try to pip one of France, Greece or the Netherlands to the top two spots in Group B, especially given their recent winless exploits in Euro qualifying.
Indeed, Kenny’s side have failed to win any of their last five qualification matches for the European Championships since a 2-0 win over Gibraltar in June 2019, and while they do have a 14-game unbeaten home run to protect at this stage, their chances of a 15th are slim against an Mbappe-inspired France.
Gleefully handing over the armband to 24-year-old Mbappe following the retirements of Raphael Varane and Hugo Lloris, Didier Deschamps risked the wrath of a chagrined Antoine Griezmann, but any animosity between the two forwards was immediately extinguished during their demolition of the Dutch.
Mbappe and Griezmann combined for the latter to fire home the game’s opening goal within the opening two minutes – the Paris Saint-Germain icon would later cap off his first game as national team skipper with a brilliant brace – while Dayot Upamecano also made the net ripple in a 4-0 annihilation.
However, Upamecano was thanking his lucky stars – or more specifically Mike Maignan – after giving away a last-minute penalty for handball, but France’s new number one kept out Memphis Depay’s spot kick and the follow-up to ensure that the Bleus sheets remained clean.
Quickly assuming their role as group leaders after one game, France will have no intention of losing their grip on top spot over the next eight months, and they travel to Dublin having won each of their last three Euro qualifying away matches without conceding a single goal.
Since suffering a 3-2 defeat to the Boys in Green in a 1982 World Cup qualifier, France have avoided defeat in each of their last seven meetings with the Republic of Ireland – winning four of their last five – but Thierry Henry would do well to make himself scarce as images of the 2009 handball linger long in the hosts’ memory.
Republic of Ireland form (all competitions):
France Euro Champ Qualifying form:
France form (all competitions):
We say: Republic of Ireland 0-3 France
Despite their 13-year unbeaten home streak in Euro qualifying games, Ireland ought to quickly discover that France are a different kettle of fish compared to a Latvia side that were nevertheless able to expose their defensive shortcomings.
While a taxing journey, playing away from home and a quick turnaround may not allow Les Bleus to bag another quartet of strikes, Deschamps’s reinvigorated side should still teach the Boys in Green a footballing lesson and travel back to base with another three points in their column.