The Republic of Ireland hosts France on Monday to kickstart their 2024 European Championship Qualification campaign.
The two nations are in a tough group B, with the Netherlands, Greece and Gibraltar filling the remaining spots. The last time the two nations met competitively was in the 2016 Euros knockout stage. Ireland took a surprise lead thanks to a Robbie Brady penalty in the second minute, but a quick-fire second-half brace from Antoine Griezmann secured a 2-1 victory for his country.
Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland supporters have every right to be excited about the future of their national team, with only their captain, Matt Doherty, over the age of 27 in the preferred starting XI. In net, they have two quality goalkeepers, Caoimhin Kelleher and Gavin Bazunu, who often rotate. Coach, Stephen Kenny, frequently opts for a three-back formation with advanced wingbacks.
The back three consists of twenty-year-old Andrew Omobamidele of Norwich, twenty-one-year-old Nathan Collins who has a couple of years of Premier League experience at Burnley and Wolves, and West Brom captain Dara O’Shea who is only twenty-four himself. Ireland also have Will Smallbone and Jason Molumby in midfield, the 23-year-old duo have been solid In the EFL Championship this season. Up front, they have Michael Obafemi of Burnley and one of the most exciting prospects in Europe, Brighton’s Evan Ferguson.
Although Ireland does have experience in the squad such as John Egan, James McClean and Jeff Hendrick, It is clear that they possess some real quality via the younger players. However, the obvious downfall of relying on young individuals is the lack of experience, which could ultimately cost them during these qualifiers.
In four of their last five games, Ireland have conceded two goals, with Malta being the only side to not score against them in this run. Even though Ireland have struggled defensively in recent games, they did hold Portugal to a 0-0 draw in the 2021 World Championship qualifiers which shows they can be defensively resilient and frustrate their opponents.
Evan Ferguson made his full debut on Wednesday evening in his nation’s most recent game. Ireland started brightly and took a two-goal lead in seventeen minutes, with the 18-year-old debutant scoring the second from close range. However, by half time, Latvia had tied the game thanks to two goals from outside the area. The first was an unstoppable strike and the second goal was a deflected volley. After sustained pressure in the second half, Ireland finally regained the lead thanks to substitute Chiedozie Ogbene, who won the tie for his country.
Unlike Ireland, Didier Deschamps's men actually start their qualifier campaign on Friday evening as they play their biggest competitor in Group B, the Netherlands. The French national team will be extremely motivated and feel like they have a point to prove after losing the World Cup final on penalties to Argentina.
During the World Cup in Qatar, Kylian Mbappe showed why he is arguably the best player in the world right now, as he scored eight goals and registered two assists. The PSG star carried his team to the final, scoring a hat-trick, however, his efforts were not rewarded. One of France’s biggest attributes is their squad depth which is simply unbelievable, they could field two to three world-class XI teams with their pool of talent.
With the amount of quality that France have, they should win every game in their qualifying group. If it isn’t Mbappe providing a threat, it is Griezmann, Olivier Giroud or Kingsley Coman. They also have the Bundesliga trio of Randal Kolo Muani, Moussa Diaby and Marcus Thuram on the bench to bring on against tired legs. We saw how Deschamps’ substitutions can help his side secure victories in the World Cup, in particular against Morocco in the semi-final, when Kolo Muani scored France’s second and Thuram provided defensive cover and a way out of Morocco’s press.
In the World Cup, France scored at least two goals in all but one game, which was against Tunisia in the final group game and they were heavily rotated. They also saw both teams score in five out of seven games which clearly highlights that they can be vulnerable if attacked. In the most recent Nations League which was just prior to the World Cup, Deschamps attempted to experiment with different tactics and formation changes, often switching to a back three. The experiment was scrapped after an extremely poor run of results and he went back to his trustworthy back four which brought him success at the 2018 World Cup. France looked far more comfortable and settled now, however, and they will be confident that they can comfortably beat the majority of sides they face.
Although Ireland have plenty of quality in their side, their lack of experience could end up costing them on Monday. France are an extremely strong side, but I believe Ireland will be willing to take the game to them, in an attempt to cause an upset. As both sides' recent games have seen goals, I expect this trend to continue. France will win and we could see at least three or four goals scored in the tie. France to win and both teams to score/ France to win and over 2.5 goals are both realistic outcomes.
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