20:00 BST, Monday 28th May, Stade De France (Saint-Denis, France)
In three weeks time, Didier Deschamps and his French team will face up against Australia in their first game of the World Cup group stages, hoping they can kick-start their push of winning the competition for the second time.
Before this though, France will play host to Ireland in a stadium that once bore witness to their finest accomplishment as a sporting nation.
While the Stade De France brings back fantastic memories of their famous but hard-fought World Cup win over Brazil in 1998, Les Bleus will hope they are in for a much more salubrious test in this game.
They welcome an Ireland side who narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification after suffering a painful defeat at the hands of Denmark last November. Martin O’Neill’s team would have been confident of qualifying for this summers tournament once the draw was made for the playoffs, but it was Christian Eriksen and co. who firmly put them back in their place with a 5-1 thrashing in Dublin.
The Ireland manager will look to build on the progress he has made within the Ireland camp and several new faces will be on show as they look to impress ahead to next years European Championship qualifiers.
This is the first of a three-game friendly series for France, which will also consist of games vs Italy and USA ahead of their opening Group C game on the 16th June.
Deschamps has chosen his opponents wisely it seems as Ireland will all be happy to sit behind the ball and let France try to break them down. Denmark, not dislike Ireland in how they approach the game, may be their stiffest test in the group stages. This match-up could be significant and reflective on the challenge that awaits them in group C.
With Benjamin Mendy missing for most of Manchester City’s title-winning season through a knee injury, for many, he was a surprise inclusion in Deschamps squad.
Despite his return in the last number of games off the substitutes bench at the end of the Premier League season, France will need to be careful with him in the lead up to the tournament. We expect Lucas Hernandez to feature from the start after his role in Atletico Madrid’s Europa League victory.
France have deployed a 4-3-3 in most of their games since Deschamps took over in 2012 and we don’t expect him to change now. They have a multitude of options all over the pitch and particularly in the forward areas. We expect Griezmann to be favoured over Olivier Giroud to lead the line in this one while Ousmane Dembele will surely feature from the bench.
Martin O’Neill has a somewhat of an injury crisis on his hands at the moment and especially in the goalkeeping position.
Regulars Darren Randolph and Kieron Westwood have both been ruled out through injury which paves the way for a trio of new faces in Conor O’Malley, Shane Supple, and Colin Doyle. We expect O’Malley to get the nod having featured in Ireland’s draw last week with Celtic in Scott Brown’s testimonial.
While this is only a friendly game and a chance to test new players, O’Neill will not want his team embarrassed and this is why we expect him to go with a more defensive 5-3-1-1 formation with McClean and Coleman providing support from the wing back positions.
Similar to the European Championship in 2016, Burnley’s Jeff Hendrick will be asked to support the pacey Shane Long further up the pitch. League of Ireland representatives Graham Burke and Shane Supple will hope they get a chance to get their first caps for the national squad off the bench.
Key Players: Antoine Griezmann (France) vs Shane Duffy (Ireland)
Antoine Griezmann looks certain to move on from Atletico Madrid this summer after securing another Europa League win for the club with a brace in last weeks final with Marseille.
His 29 goals in all competitions this season has led to him being widely rumoured with a move to Barcelona this summer.
Coming off the back of claiming the top goalscorer award at the European Championships in 2016, he is France’s star man. He can carry his rich vein of form into Monday night’s game with Ireland and will be the man Ireland need to stop if they want to get a result in this one.
While often dropping deep to get involved in play, his cuteness of runs allows him to get in behind the opposition at ease at times.
Shane Duffy is the man who has the uncomfortable task of trying to keep Griezmann at bay on Monday as Ireland look baton down the hatches. The Brighton man has enjoyed an incredible debut season in the Premier League and his partnership with Lewis Dunk at the heart of the defence was pivotal in the survival of the side.
It will not be an easy task for Duffy however he may have hopes of captaining this Irish side one day and there isn’t a greater test in world football at the minute than playing up against France’s dynamic number seven. Duffy will need to be on his toes for 90 minutes.
Will Deschamps be able to keep the harmony?
In major tournaments gone by, we have often heard about separation or divide that can happen within a camp.
Recently Spain’s recent major tournament wins bridged a gap within the dressing room and paved the way for a period of domination.
The appointment of three captains within the dressing room to keep the peace between the Barcelona and Real Madrid players allowed for a mentality shift within the squad.
While not exactly identical, France may find themselves in a similar position this summer. They undoubtedly have one of the most talented squads in the world, however, only 11 players can play.
Balancing ego’s within the dressing room and finding a way of suiting all may be key to France’s success.
If Deschamps can get this balance correct before the tournament and during these friendly games, then there is every chance they could lift the cup for the second time in their history come July.
Can Monday be the start of a fresher looking Ireland team for the future?
While Martin O’Neill can be described as old school in his methods, he has been forced to change at least in terms of personnel for this game.
Irish stalwarts such as John O’Shea, John Walters and Glenn Whelan have been great servants to their country over the last decade, however, Irish fans have grown tired of O’Neill’s dated tactics in recent years.
The forceable withdrawals from many of the older generation from this months Friendly games has meant O’Neill has had to broaden his horizons when selecting this squad.
Introducing two players who play in the Irish domestic league into the squad has been met with a great buzz around the country and younger players such as Callum O’Dowda and Declan Rice look to have long careers ahead of them.
If the new generation of Irish talent was to perform well enough here and somehow fork out a result, it could be the catalyst for change the Irish set up needs. We may see a fresher, more exciting Ireland team for the future.
Prediction: France 2-0 Ireland
Given the current difference in quality between the two teams, it is impossible to foresee anything other than a French win here, albeit not by a landslide.
Ireland will do their utmost to keep this attacking France team to a limited number of chances throughout the game by making themselves compact and hard to breakdown while trying to counter through Long up front.
France should have enough quality to get the job done in front of their own supporters and with their options off the bench at a premium, expect them to break down the Irish wall of defence on more than one occasion.
Can Ireland keep France at bay? Let us know in the comments below.
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