France defender Benjamin Pavard made a spectacular comeback to the team as his superb second-half strike saw them beat Republic of Ireland 1-0 away in Euro 2024 qualifying Group B on Monday.
Pavard, cast aside at last year’s World Cup after a woeful opening game, struck from 18 metres to put France on six points from two games after Friday’s 4-0 drubbing of the Netherlands.
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France goalkeeper Mike Maignan, who took over as number one after Hugo Lloris‘s international retirement, denied the hosts an equaliser with a stunning save in the last minute, three days after stopping a penalty at the Stade de France.
France lead the group ahead of second-placed Greece, who have three points having only played once, with the Dutch third on goal difference after beating Gibraltar 3-0 at home.
Ireland are in fourth place after one game.
“It’s never easy against such an aggressive team. We were ahead, but then they threatened on set pieces. We were solid, it’s a good two games even if today’s was not as good as Friday’s,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.
“But it as a different opponent. Anyway, six points is ideal. Congratulations to the squad.”
Deschamps made three changes to the team who started against the Netherlands, with Eduardo Camavinga in midfield instead of Aurelien Tchouameni while Olivier Giroud was fielded as a lone striker with Randal Kolo Muani sliding to the right flank and pushing Kingsley Coman to the bench.
In defence, Pavard, who did not play at the World Cup after a terrible match against Australia, returned at right-back instead of Jules Kounde and he made his presence count.
France got off to a lively start and got a good chance in the ninth minute when Kolo Muani burst into the area, only to opt not to shoot and try to find Giroud with a back heel.
It was Les Bleus’ only decent opportunity in the opening half as they lacked creativity against an Irish side aware of Kylian Mbappe‘s speed and happy to sit back and wait.
Pavard, however, broke the deadlock five minutes into the second half with an 18-metre shot that went under the bar after he had intercepted a poor pass from Josh Cullen to Jason Knight.
Ireland upped the pressure in the final minutes after France had failed to double their advantage through Adrien Rabiot and Moussa Diaby and they thought they had an equaliser through Nathan Collins, only for the defender’s header to be tipped away from under the bar by Maignan.
“Mike is Mike. It’s not easy to come after Hugo, but he has been around with us for a while and in two games he’s shown his strength,” said Deschamps.