Griezmann's winning brace gets France in the mood, says Richard Buxton
Memories of winning run in 1998 ring out for hosts as Griezmann double sinks Irish
ROUND OF 16
(Antoine Griezmann 58, 61)
REP OF IRELAND 1
(Robbie Brady 2-pen)
Light on both entertainment and drama, Euro 2016's Round of 16 stage had been a diet as imbalanced as Uefa's bracketed match-ups schedule.
And then, through a combination of carelessness and individual brilliance, France and a two-goal hero in Antoine Griezmann did exactly what any self-respecting party hosts would have done when their event was in danger of falling flat.
They turned the noise up and got everyone dancing again.
Paralysed by pressure and one moment of carelessness, Didier Deschamps' players seemed down and out in Lyon as the Republic of Ireland snatched an early lead yesterday.
Les Bleus appeared resigned to finding themselves back on the periphery, peering forlornly from an outside window at the continued fun being had by all others.
For 56 minutes, they trailed; wheezing after a combination of Paul Pogba's overzealous defending and a Robbie Brady penalty.
Elimination in Karim Benzema's home town appeared inevitable, carrying with it a degree of poetic justice.
From the moment Griezmann's header rippled Darren Randolph's net at the beginning of the second half, however, the mood turned; the Stade de Nice reverberated with cheers and every missed opportunity was greeted with happy anguish rather than anger.
The home fans knew the tide had turned, and within minutes, Griezmann finished off a smart move to sink Irish hearts and set off a full-blown celebration among the French.
Even Olivier Giroud, still struggling to shake his role as the country's designated pantomime villain, was afforded a standing ovation.
This was the long-awaited watershed moment that France had craved in the build-up to this tournament.
It was a flashpoint which will resonate heavily with Deschamps.
The former midfielder saw first-hand a similar level of turbulence when he captained his country during their last and ultimately glorious campaign on home soil at the 1998 World Cup.
Then, as now, native backing for the under-performing hosts was not entirely forthcoming. It took a Round-of-16 win over Paraguay to transform the country's fractured support into one which galvanised the national side.
Installed as the favourites, everything had come far too easy for France at the time; from a qualification-free place in the Finals to largely unfashionable opposition in their warm-up games and a series of eminently winnable group-stage encounters.
The same can be said of their Euro 2016 exploits.
Moments of brilliance have been far outweighed by prolonged periods of stagnation.
Griezmann's ability to step up to the plate have masked the shortcomings of similarly vaunted peers, like Pogba.
But France's embarrassment of attacking riches has armed Deschamps with a diversity of options; if Pogba flounders, Griezmann can excel. Should the Atletico Madrid forward fall short, Giroud or Dimitri Payet can offer more than able assistance.
And, when desperate, young tyros Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial have the talent to hurt tiring defences.
Only the victors from tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) encounter between England and Iceland now stand in France's way of reaching the semi-finals.
History, both recent and ancient, stands them in good stead, with an unbeaten record in a self-hosted international tournament since the 1938 World Cup.
With a jubilant nation back on their side, they could go all the way again.
You shouldn’t be too calculated. the players need discipline but sometimes we’re better when we go a bit crazy. We really speeded things up and that’s when we are most dangerous. this team have everything to be loved. they bring emotions to the fans and we’re feeling that popular support. We need it.
— France coach Didier Deschamps
We had a bad first half but a few things were said at half-time. it was stormy. in the second half, we were more like a team which wanted to fight until the end.
— France goalscorer Antoine Griezmann