Macdara Ferris reports from Stade de France, Paris
The French travel as one of the favourites for this summer’s World Cup and the ease with which they dismissed the Republic of Ireland 2-0 on Monday evening gives an insight into why.
While Didier Deschamps’ men dominated possession in a game played out under a heavy thunderstorm, Ireland did at least avoid capitulating, having trailed 2-0 at the break after goals from Nabil Feker and Olivier Giroud.
Deschamps had described Ireland as direct ahead of the game but they weren’t given enough of the ball to even do that.
Martin O’Neill, as he said he would, gave some of his inexperienced players a run out by bringing in Derrick Williams for a debut and giving a League of Ireland player, in Graham Burke, a first international cap in over a decade.
For virtually the entire first period, the Boys in Green were pegged back in their own half.
Didier Deschamps had said his team had come through a week of intense training ahead of this game and they certainly were getting good possession practice in a game environment.
They were patient in their play though and weren’t too fast on the draw to get shots away.
Ireland and James McClean helped them go close mid-way through the half when, in typical fashion, he cleaned an opponent out.
The Derryman went in the book of Bulgairan referee Georgi Kabakov for taking out the French captain Blaise Matuidi.
From a central position on the edge of the D though, Nabil Feker bent the ball around the wall but just wide of the post.
Williams, on debut, showed promise not diving in when others were. Declan Rice was playing a holding role in midfield in front of the back four but the four in front of him were tucked in behind the ball for most of the half, with Shane Long super-isolated up top on his own.
For all the French possession, bar coming for a Corentin Tolisso cross, Colin Doyle in the Ireland goal didn’t have much to do until just after the half hour mark.
However, he then needed to pull off a sharp save from Kylian Mbappe. Moments later, Giroud’s header flashed just wide of the Ireland goal.
There was one person who was able to give the French the run around in the first half – but it was a jovial pitch invader that Parisian security had difficulty catching, much to the amusement of everyone in the Stade de France.
The first goal of the game came five minutes before the break from France's fifth corner.
Fekir floated the ball to the back post. Giroud got up and while Doyle saved the Chelsea striker’s header, he wasn’t to be denied prodding the ball home for the opener at the second attempt.
That French pressure had been building as just three minutes previously Corentin Tolisso’s right foot shot from outside the area whacked off Doyle’s left hand post and out and they soon had their second.
It wasn’t quite in the mould of goalkeeping errors seen over the weekend in Ukraine but Doyle will be very disappointed that he couldn’t deal with Fekir’s right-footed effort.
He got his hands to the Lyon player’s shot but he could only parry it upward before it drifted over the line and the French were two up.
Ireland’s best chance of the half came in first half injury time as Steve Mandana, who had virtually noting to do in opening 45 minutes, flapped at a cross to concede Ireland’s first corner of the game. McClean whipped the ball onto the top of Shane Long’s head, but he couldn’t direct it on target.
Giroud went close early in the second half with Doyle getting a strong hand to a well struck shot from the French striker.
As if the French weren’t putting enough pressure on the Ireland goal, Alan Browne stuck an awkward boot at a Djibril Sidibe cross which just cleared Doyle’s crossbar.
Martin O’Neill looked to freshen things up just before the hour mark by bringing on David Meyler and Harry Arter for the fairly ineffectual Jon Walters and Browne.
Deschamps, meanwhile, had the option of bringing on the top scorer and player of Euro 2016, Antoine Griezmann, amongst the stars off his bench and the sting was taken out of the second half with 12 second-half changes between the teams.
One substitution brought some happiness to most League of Ireland fans and Shamrock Rovers supporters in particular.
Graham Burke came on for the final 20 minutes making the first Ireland appearance for a League of Ireland player since Joe Gamble back 2007. He also beamce the first Shamrock Rovers player to be capped for Ireland since Pat Byrne in 1986.
Irish captain Seamus Coleman was brave to stick a head up at his opposite numbers shot when Matuidi cut in on the left to get a shot away with 15 minutes remaining.
That was the closest the French came to getting a third, while Ireland did go close in second half injury time as the heavy rain saw the ball begin to stick on the turf.
Both sides have friendlies to come against the USA in the next week or so. Ireland will be thankful they don’t have to face such star-studded opposition in the near future, while France’s focus turns to the fast-approaching World Cup.
France: Steve Mandanda; Djibril Sidibe (Benjamin Pavard 83), Adil Rami, Samuel Umtiti (Presnel Kimpembe 63), Benjamin Mendy (Lucas Hernandez 22); Corentin Tolisso (Paul Pogba 76), Steven Nzonzi, Blaise Matuidi ©; Kylian Mbappe (Ousmane Dembele 76), Olivier Giroud, Nabil Fekir (Antoine Griezmann 63).
Subs not used: Hugo Lloris (gk), Alphonse Areola (gk), Raphael Varane, Ngolo Kante, Florian Thauvin, Thomas Lemar.
Republic of Ireland: Colin Doyle; Seamus Coleman ©, Shane Duffy, Kevin Long (Shaun Williams 78), Derrick Williams (Matt Doherty 82); Declan Rice; Jonathan Walters (Harry Arter 59), Callum O’Dowda (Graham Burke 70), Alan Browne (David Meyler 59), James McClean; Shane Long (Alan Judge 70).
Subs not used: Conor O'Malley (gk), Shane Supple (gk), John Egan, Darragh Lenihan, Enda Stevens, Greg Cunningham, Daryl Horgan.
Booked: James McClean (21), Harry Arter (69).
Referee: Georgi Kabakov (Bulgaria).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Nabil Fekir (France).