Irish have no lack of motivation against French
Ireland have no lack of motivation in grudge match against France
ROUND OF 16
FRANCE v REP OF IRELAND
(Tonight, 8.50pm, Singtel TV Ch 142 & StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)
Thierry Henry's handball was the best thing to happen to both the Republic of Ireland and France.
Broken hearts and inner turmoil, on opposing sides, paved the way for tonight's Euro 2016 showdown - a first meeting between the pair since the fixture became synonymous with the Arsenal legend's misdeed, back in 2009.
Even stacked against an international history littered with infamies, such as John Aldridge's foul-mouthed outburst at the 1994 World Cup and Roy Keane's Saipan incident, Henry's shenanigans at the Stade de France continues to rankle above all others.
Seven years and 504.9km separate events in Paris from the Round-of-16 encounter in Lyon, but neither time nor distance can heal the wounds which still smart from that flashpoint, which denied them a place at the 2010 World Cup.
For both countries, however, it began their contrasting roads to resurrection.
By any means necessary, France won the battle to reach South Africa, but subsequently imploded.
Once there, rows and resignations went hand in hand. Nicolas Anelka's expulsion became their Keane moment and Knysna the backdrop to a personal Saipan.
Les Bleus' abject inability to qualify from the group stages saw coach Raymond Domenech fall on his sword.
His successor, Laurent Blanc, fared fractionally better; stepping down in the wake of a quarter-final exit at Euro 2012 to Spain.
The remedy to France's competitive ills lay with another protagonist from their class of 1998 in Didier Deschamps.
A symbol of the country's all-conquering side at the end of the last century, the former captain now carries the hopes of the next generation with him.
But he will have his work cut out at the Stade de Lyon, off the pitch just as on it.
Like Domenech, he has incurred his country's wrath for casting off a mercurial yet dilemma-inducing player in the form of Karim Benzema.
Any hopes of forthcoming bonhomie as France step out in the Real Madrid striker's hometown is ambitious at best.
Ireland have avoided such mutinies since Keane's acrimonious exit in the prelude to their 2002 World Cup campaign, but their attempts to banish the injustices of 2009 were short-lived in a previous appearance at the Finals that bordered on tokenism.
Throughout Poland and the Ukraine, chants of "The Fields of Athenry" rang out ritually as long-suffering supporters further endured seeing their team pummelled, by nine goals across three group stage games, in the country's worst showing at a major tournament.
That, coupled with a qualification shortfall for the 2014 World Cup, prompted the end of Giovanni Trapattoni's five-year tenure.
Martin O'Neill's ushering in of a promising new era has already seen progress at the first time of asking, in qualifying for Euro 2016.
Once more, it will be an Arsenal frontman, this time from the present, who threatens to stand in their way again, as Olivier Giroud heads up a stellar France line-up which will rely on their ability to overpower rather than resorting to the opportunism that saw his illustrious predecessor besmirched.
With one giant slain, having seen off Italy in their final group encounter in midweek, vengeance now sits in the minds of the Irish players - not least the five surviving members of the squad from that infamous evening in Paris - as they aim to go one better.
'Pogba needs to concentrate'
France coach Didier Deschamps has called on star midfielder Paul Pogba to concentrate for his country ahead of their Euro 2016 last-16 clash with the Republic of Ireland tonight.
The Juventus player was lambasted after France's first match against Romania, was kept on the bench for the second and made a full return for the third against Switzerland.
Deschamps said the 23-year-old (above), who has been linked to big-money moves, is better when he is out of the headlines.
"Paul had a difficult first match, he came on in the second and had a very good first half against Switzerland," Deschamps said.
"He is ready and needed calm to prepare well. There is a lot of talk about him, but he is still quite young and needs to have tranquility and concentration."
Deschamps said West Ham's Dimitri Payet deserves the star status he has achieved with his sparkling performances for France.
"I am very happy with what Dimitri has done because he is decisive," the coach said.
"He takes (the star status) well, he has had a lot of deserved praise, but he got back to work at the start of the week to maintain this performance level.
"Dimitri is not a young player, he does not have a lot of experience in the French team but he knows what he went through before, he knows what it took to get here and he is not going to change that."
While France will start as favourites against the Irish in Lyon, Pogba and Payet's match-winning skills could be needed against a team that Deschamps said have "a lot of heart and more as they are good footballers".
"They all play in the Premier League and are used to playing the best English teams. They can play on the ground even if it is mostly the direct game," said the French boss.
Deschamps joined his Irish Republic counterpart Martin O'Neill in urging both sides to forget Thierry Henry's handball in 2009 which set up a goal that sent France through to the 2010 World Cup at the expense of the Republic.
"That belongs to history," Deschamps insisted. "There is no revenge. You cannot change what happened in the past. You cannot have that feeling at the top level."
France have had a whole week to rest, more time than any other team, but captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said they still expected a "battle" tonight.
"The closer we get to the match, the more the adrenalin rushes," said the Tottenham custodian.
"Our heads are focused on this encounter, the battle ahead. I use that word because we know this team.
"The Irish put a lot of heart and passion into it. We will have to quickly start winning the duels so that they do not gain confidence."
Lloris will captain France for the 55th time, a national record.
It will also be his 79th cap and Deschamps led the tributes.
"He has a legitimacy, an exemplarity which is recognised in the squad," said Deschamps.
"He does not talk all the time but, when he has something to say, he says it and makes himself heard." - AFP.
TNP analyst Sablon says:
France are one of the few teams who are performing close to their best at this European Championship.
The Irish are physically strong, but I think they'll pay the price in terms of how hard they pushed themselves in previous games.
Ireland's style of play means they use more physical effort - running, covering, putting in a huge effort to go on counter-attacks. By now, fatigue will start to have an effect on them.
Some have pointed to the fact France have had seven days to prepare for this match since their final group game, whereas Ireland had only four, as another factor in their favour.
I am not convinced this is the case, because the seven-day break could have affected the team's rhythm in training and preparations.
So France may take some time to settle in the match and play to the level we know they can.
But I'm still backing them to win 2-0.
I know some people say France are on the difficult side of the knockout draw, which also include Germany, England, Spain and Italy. But, with the home support, they can at least make it to the semi-finals.
- Michel Sablon, the technical director of the Football Association of Singapore, was speaking to Sazali Abdul Aziz.