PARIS (AP) With the benefit of three days’ extra rest, France is hoping to set a punishing pace that will wear Ireland out when they meet on Sunday in the last 16 of the European Championship.
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France settled for a draw against Switzerland last Sunday, while Ireland beat Italy 1-0 on Wednesday in Lille and only got back to its Versailles base outside of Paris at around 5 a.m. on Thursday morning.
“Three days is important in a tournament and qualifying earlier does give you more rest,” France’s assistant coach Guy Stephan said Friday. “You have to find the right balance between recovery and preparing a match. The difficulty is that, at the start of the week, we didn’t know who we were playing.”
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Ireland’s defense has been solid enough in two of its three games so far at Euro 2016, a 1-1 draw with Sweden and a 1-0 victory over Italy – getting caught out only in a 3-0 defeat by Belgium.
Now it faces the prospect of a demanding, high-tempo match, provided that France’s nippy forward Antoine Griezmann and pacey wingers Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial can raise their game.
“They are well organized at the back and it’s not easy to move them out of position,” Stephan said. “To do this, you can play with more width, play more quickly and shoot more from distance – where they have to come and close you down.
“We have to find solutions. But I think one of the best is playing quickly, playing one-touch football. I think we can do better at this.”
Although France has bigger names, with Paul Pogba starring in the Italian league with Juventus, it is not taking Ireland’s threat lightly.
“They don’t just play a British style of play, it would be a cliche to say that because they’re also a good passing side,” Stephan said. “But their play is focused on the long ball to (striker) Shane Long, who is doing well in the Premier League and to (Daryl) Murphy, who’s very tall.”
Ireland coach Martin O’Neill has also shown impressive tactical flexibility, successfully changing his center halves after the defeat to Belgium.
Sunday’s game offers Ireland the chance for some payback.
Back in November, 2009, Ireland lost a World Cup playoff to France following a blatant handball from forward Thierry Henry in the return leg at Stade de France. After handling it, Henry’s cross led to the extra time equalizer from center half William Gallas that sent Les Bleus through to the 2010 World Cup on aggregate.
Both sides have significantly played down the re-match.
Although O’Neill said “It’s still causing some controversy” he insisted his players were not focusing on revenge.
The French camp says much the same.
“I honestly don’t think it will be important. There are many other factors that count other than this,” Stephan said. “It is part of history and makes for talking points, but it’s a long time ago. The Irish naturally have fighting spirit, I’m not sure they need this for motivation.”