Aurélien Tchouaméni and Marcus Thuram dealt another blow to the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2024 qualification hopes with a routine 2-0 win in Paris.
The pair struck either side of half-time at the Parc des Princes as France maintained their perfect start to qualification with a fifth successive Group B victory. Ireland, on the other hand, have just three points from their first four games and Sunday’s clash with the Netherlands in Dublin could all but decide their fate.
Stephen Kenny’s men were organised and dogged, but were unable to cause the hosts enough problems with the notable exception of a Chiedozie Ogbene header which prompted a fine save from Mike Maignan. Winger Ousmane Dembélé tormented Enda Stevens to such an extent that he was replaced at half-time, while Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann also delighted a passionate home crowd.
Before the game, much had been made in France of Gavin Bazunu’s propensity to concede from distance, but the Republic keeper could have done very little to keep out Tchouaméni’s sweetly struck 19th-minute shot, and he was left exposed as substitute Thuram extended the lead after 48 minutes.
While the outcome in Paris was never likely to define their campaign, June’s defeat in Greece left Ireland up against it and a repeat against the Dutch on Sunday would effectively extinguish all hope of finishing in the top two slots in their group.
France set off in determined fashion, with Adrien Rabiot thumping a shot into Bazunu’s midriff from Dembélé’s pull-back. John Egan then had to make a vital block to keep out Olivier Giroud’s strike after Théo Hernandez had burst into space down the left flank.
Mbappé might have done better from the resulting corner, scooping a tame attempt over the top after Adam Idah had taken Griezmann’s corner out of Bazunu’s reach, and the Ireland keeper was relieved to see the Atlético Madrid star’s 15th-minute free-kick smuggled away after it bounced awkwardly through a crowded penalty area.
Bazunu was beaten four minutes later when, after Griezmann had headed down for Dembélé, his cross was headed away by Nathan Collins only for Mbappé to recycle the loose ball to Tchouaméni. The Real Madrid midfieder curled a delicious shot across the keeper and inside the far post from 25 yards.
Giroud departed injured after Egan’s 24th-minute challenge and was replaced by Thuram and with Mbappé dropping deep to pick up possession, the visitors found themselves under almost constant pressure. Ogbene’s occasional, but largely unsupported, forays down the right were their only real attacking outlet.
Bazunu fielded a speculative effort from Mbappé comfortably, but was relieved to see an offside flag come to his rescue after the Paris Saint-Germain star stabbed a 42nd-minute shot between his legs. Stevens departed at the break to be replaced by James McClean, but his side fell further behind within three minutes of the restart.
Mbappé failed to make the most of a Théo Hernandez cross but Thuram was on hand. The forward is back on form after joining Inter this summer, and he span on the loose ball before rifling into the roof of the net to make the game all but safe.
With little left to lose, the Republic pushed forward in greater numbers and might have reduced the deficit from Ogbene’s header, saved brilliantly by Maignan after Idah had beaten the offside trap. The new Luton recruit then curled a left-foot shot inches over the bar as the anxious keeper could only look on.
Ireland’s new-found sense of adventure left them vulnerable at the back and Mbappé’s blushes were spared by a late offside flag after he had missed the target in a one-on-one battle with Bazunu. Dembélé rattled the upright from a tight angle and Thuram missed a good chance as the visitors escaped without further damage.
After the match, Kenny was keen to immediately turn his focus to Sunday’s game at the Aviva Stadium. “The energy of the home crowd has been special, it’s been electric at home and we need that again on Sunday to pull out the performance of our lives,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got to do.”