Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has called on his players to produce the performance of their lives after their Euro 2024 qualification hopes were left dangling by a thread.
A 2-0 Group B defeat in Paris on Thursday evening means Ireland have taken just three points from their first four games, and realistically they need to beat the Netherlands in Dublin on Sunday to stand any chance of progressing.
Speaking in the bowels of the Parc des Princes after an energy-sapping night at the hands of the mesmeric Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele, Kenny said: “We’ve just got to get ready for Sunday now.
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“We knew that if Holland beat Greece tonight and we beat Holland, we’re level on Sunday. We’ve got Greece at home and Gibraltar away in October, so it’s that big for us. We know it’s that big for us.
“The energy of the home crowd has been special, it’s been electric at home and we need that again on Sunday to pull out the performance of our lives. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Ireland arrived in Paris knowing they were up against it because of the quality of both the opposition and the heat, and while they battled manfully throughout, the gulf in class – Didier Deschamps was able to bring Champions League winners on from his bench while one of Kenny’s substitutes, James McClean, is currently playing his football with League Two Wrexham – eventually told.
Aurelien Tchouameni blasted the French into a 19th-minute lead as Ireland once again conceded from distance, and the side ranked second in the world never looked back against opponents rated 53rd by FIFA.
They increased their lead three minutes after the restart through substitute Marcus Thuram, a first-half replacement for the injured Olivier Giroud, and although it took a good save by Mike Maignan to keep out Chiedozie Ogbene’s header, the Republic had to defend for dear life to ensure the margin of victory did not stretch beyond 2-0.
Kenny said: “To be fair, obviously France are a world-class team, a really top-class international team, one of the best teams in the world, if not the best.
“But I can’t fault my players. I thought they gave everything really in the match. We were beaten by a better team for sure. For a lot of the players it’s the best team they have played against.
“Of course we could have done better at times, for sure, but everyone gave everything of themselves.”
France boss Didier Deschamps admitted his team could have been more clinical, but was largely satisfied.
He said: “We could have done more, but broadly speaking I’m very satisfied with the result and the performance of the players.
“Kylian did good things, even if he didn’t score. It’s not always Olivier Giroud or Kylian Mbappe supposed to score. It’s more about focussing on the goal, to qualify.
“We had many chances to score, especially from outside the box. We were expecting a good team from the Irish team. With their three defenders, they were very present.
“They created some difficult situations for us, especially if you remember the game in Dublin which was a bit risky for us. It’s a team that plays very deep and there were some difficulties.”