William Gallas

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Deschamps, France rise from turmoil to precipice of EURO glory

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For a moment, take yourself back to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The French national team has imploded. Players have been kicked off the team, and the lone point from group play was a 0-0 draw with Uruguay. Mexico blanks Les Bleus 2-0 before South Africa picks up a 2-1 win via a pair of first half goals. Coach Raymond Domenech won’t shake hands with South Africa’s coach after the once shining power fails to advance out of the group stage of a major tournament for the second-straight time (EURO 2008). Oh, and they only got to the World Cup courtesy a pair of Thierry Henry handballs against Ireland leading to a William Gallas goal.

[ MATCH RECAP: France 2-0 Germany ]

EURO 2012 doesn’t go much better, as France backed into a one-and-done knockout round thanks to a Ukraine loss to England, but Laurent Blanc tried his hand with some young guns. The 2014 World Cup, with Didier Deschamps at the helm, was much better. The manager wasn’t afraid to leave Samir Nasri at home, and France cruised into the quarterfinals where they were respectably defeated by eventual champs Germany.

That built towards this summer’s tournament in France, where as hosts the only question would be how the side would fare after having little meaningful football as a unit before the games began. That was until lunatics attacked France several times, including one attack that halted a match played by this team.

Imagine that feeling, that knowledge that your side was the target in its own country. Contemplate trying to win a football game against another world power, with that fear somewhere inside you.

[ MORE: Messi’s father meets Chelsea? ]

Deschamps again played a strong hand in keeping Karim Benzema from the team after the striker’s insidious sex tape scandal against teammate Mathieu Valbuena, but his team didn’t let him down. Despite fans booing striker Olivier Giroud early in the tournament, the side found late heroics twice in the group stage before coming back to beat Ireland and throttling Iceland. Thursday’s 2-0 win over Germany may’ve taken some time to click, but was impressive.

Which brings us to the final on home soil, almost eight full months since the attack on the Bataclan, where — terrifyingly enough — tournament hero Antoine Griezmann’s sister played dead to avoid being killed during the Eagles of Death Metal show, as her brother played soccer across town.

With all respect to Cristiano Ronaldo and a terrific underdog performance from Portugal, it’s hard to imagine France won’t be the favorites both logistically and emotionally. I know I’ll be pulling for Les Bleus come Sunday at 3.

O’Neill: Ireland does not need France revenge for motivation

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PARIS (AP) Forget revenge, Ireland’s game against France on Sunday is all about a chance to reach the quarterfinals of the European Championship.

That was the message from coach Martin O’Neill on Thursday as he prepared for a match in Lyon that carries more than its fair share of historical baggage.

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.

[ MORE: Ranking the 16 remaining EURO sides ]

“It’s still causing some controversy,” O’Neill said.

“But I think maybe perhaps more in France than it is in Ireland. We have decided to forget about (it) and that’s some doing coming from Ireland. It will be a talking point obviously, but I don’t think it will concern us when we play the game.”

On Thursday, French sports daily L’Equipe showed a photo of Henry handling the ball alongside the caption “Un vieux compte a regler” (An old score to settle).

Ireland forward Robbie Keane, center half John O'Shea, midfielder Glenn Whelan, goalkeeper Shay Given and winger Aiden McGeady all played that night, and are all in the Euro 2016 squad.

Today, O’Neill has fresh concerns – notably how much more rest time France has had.

France played its final group game on Sunday, drawing 0-0 with Switzerland, while Ireland beat Italy 1-0 on Wednesday night thanks to a late goal from midfielder Robbie Brady.

“It does seem a disproportionate amount of time that one team has to recover from another and that might become very, very important,” O’Neill said.

[ MORE: Story of EURO 2016 so far

“I do understand as a host nation you should get some particular favors. If the competition was in Ireland I would do exactly the same myself. I would have the teams that play Ireland play every single night and we wouldn’t have to play for a year.”

Ireland’s scenes of jubilation were electric, with the 24-year-old Brady in tears as he celebrated with his family.

“It is nice to see some younger players coming through, feeling as if they belong,” O’Neill said. “For the future it looks good … but while we are here in the present let’s be delighted with how we performed, let’s think about it for a day, and then let’s get ready for France.”

O’Neill – who is from Northern Ireland – was a popular manager during spells with Leicester and Aston Villa in the English Premier League and with Celtic in Scotland.

He is also renowned for his off-the-cuff humor.

Moments after Ireland’s win, he shared a close-quarters hug with assistant coach Roy Keane, a former tough-talking – and even harder tackling – midfielder for Ireland and Manchester United.

“I told him to shave his beard because it was ruffling my chin,” O’Neill joked.

Asked what Keane replied, O’Neill continued the jokey vibe.

“He said `You are an ugly sod’ to which I agreed whole heartedly. And then I said he wasn’t Paul Newman either.”