France vs Republic of Ireland, Euro 2016: Three Key Battles

France vs Republic of Ireland

France take on the Republic of Ireland in the round of 16 of the European Championships at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais on Sunday. On paper, this game looks like a foregone conclusion with the hosts being firm favourites, but stranger things have happened in this competition in the past.

The last time these teams faced off in a game of such importance was a 2010 World Cup qualifer. After both legs ended 1-1, the game went to extra-time, where a goal that involved a clear Thierry Henry handball ended up being the winner for France. The Irish were obviously livid, and even though it’s been 7 years since that match, the scars and the quest of revenge still remain.

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The French qualified from Group A as winners, while Martin O’Neill dramatically beat Italy in their third group game to go through as one of the four best third-placed teams.

Here are three key battles to look forward to in this game, which could have a bearing on the outcome:

1) N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba (France) vs James McCarthy and Jeff Hendrick (Republic of Ireland)

The central midfield battle will have a huge say in which way the tide turns in this one. At first glance, there seems to be only one winner, with Kante and Pogba dominating every midfield they have played against thus far. McCarthy and Hendrick are both dogged and determined competitors though, and will look to bridge the gulf in ability with graft and hard work.

Pogba – who according to AS is a €120m target of Premier League giants Manchester United – has had a quiet tournament so far but we all know he is capable of winning a match on his own.

It is imperative from Ireland’s point of view that this duo is at the top of its game, and doesn’t allow France to move the ball quickly in this area of the pitch. Kante is a supreme workhorse, while Pogba has the experience at the highest level and can produce something out of nothing. If these are two can bring their best form, France will have a great chance of going through to the quarters.

2) Dimitri Payet (France) vs Seamus Coleman (Republic of Ireland)

There is no doubt that Payet has been the shining light for France thus far. The West Ham man has kicked on from a fantastic campaign with his club in the Premier League, and has played a central role for his national side. He scored an absolute stunner to win the game in France’s opening group game against Romania, and has been a constant threat on the left. The man designated to stop him will be Seamus Coleman. The Everton right-back is brilliant going forward, but can get caught flat-footed at times defensively. He must make sure that his attacking temptations don’t get the better of him, or else Payet will run riot down that side.

3) Laurent Koscielny (France) vs Shane Long (Republic of Ireland)

The biggest threat for the Republic of Ireland will be Shane Long. The Southampton striker is one of the most hardworking players out of there, who will chase down every ball and attempt to make something out of nothing. The French defenders will constantly need to be looking over their shoulders for him. One man who has faced Long before is Laurent Koscielny. The Arsenal centre-back knows exactly how dangerous Long can be, as the Irishman has a pretty decent recent scoring record against the Gunners.

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