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Les Bleus made to battle by feisty Irish

Updated: 2023-03-29 09:22
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Benjamin Pavard (No 2) is joined by Kylian Mbappe, Eduardo Camavinga (No 21) and Theo Hernandez (No 22) to celebrate Pavard's winning strike in the 1-0 Euro 2024 qualifying Group B victory over the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on Monday. REUTERS

DUBLIN — With Kylian Mbappe kept quiet, France relied on another brilliant finish from recalled defender Benjamin Pavard and two sensational late saves by Mike Maignan to defeat the Republic of Ireland 1-0 in Euro 2024 qualifying on Monday.

Making his first appearance since France's opening match of last year's World Cup, Pavard intercepted a stray pass just outside Ireland's area and fired a stunning shot that glanced in off the underside of the crossbar in the 50th minute.

It was the rightback's third goal for France and all three have been screamers. His first, against Argentina in the 2018 World Cup, was voted goal of the tournament.

France made it back-to-back wins to open Group B, but this was far from the easy ride that the Netherlands gave Les Bleus in a 4-0 thrashing on Friday. That night, Mbappe scored twice in his first match as France captain but the striker was barely a factor against a resolute Ireland team which defended fiercely early on before piling on the pressure near the end at the Aviva Stadium.

It needed Maignan to produce two stunning stops at corners — first off his own teammate, Jules Kounde, and then from a header from Ireland defender Nathan Collins that was heading into the top corner — to preserve the win.

"It was a tough game. Ireland is always difficult to play here," France manager Didier Deschamps said. "They were dangerous at the end, especially from set-pieces. We have a young team, but they have quality and character, too."

France brought Olivier Giroud back into the lineup and the striker, at 36 years, 178 days, became the oldest outfield player in the history of the national team to start.

Giroud was also quiet, though was involved in the highlight of a low-key first half when his header at a corner took a double deflection before Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu flopped on the ball at Mbappe's feet.

It fell to Pavard to produce the magic.

"The World Cup didn't go the way I would have imagined," the defender said. "But I was happy after every win, I was there for the collective."

It was Ireland's opening game of group play.

"We're disappointed and frustrated, but that's why they're such a good team," Ireland captain Seamus Coleman said of France. "We didn't allow them a lot of chances. I thought we defended well, kept them quiet."

In Rotterdam, Manchester City centerback Nathan Ake scored twice in a little over half an hour as the Netherlands overcame 10-man Gibraltar, which is 200th in the FIFA rankings.

Atletico Madrid forward Memphis Depay opened the scoring in the first half with a towering header before veteran Liam Walker was shown a red card the other side of the break.

Oranje captain Virgil van Dijk bemoaned a lack of goals at De Kuip from his team, who lost heavily to France in their Group B opener on Friday.

"You score three goals, but you have to score many more," Van Dijk said.

"This is a game where you can hardly ever get it right. You have to win 10-0, so to speak," he added.

Swede success

In Group F, Sweden bounced back from a heavy opening defeat to Belgium by hammering Azerbaijan 5-0 in Solna.

Emil Forsberg, Viktor Gyokeres, Jesper Karlsson and Anthony Elanga netted for the host and Bahlul Mustafazade scored an own goal.

Austria avoided an upset at home to beat Estonia 2-1 despite trailing after 25 minutes from a Rauno Sappinen effort.

Cologne winger Florian Kainz opened his Austria account with 22 minutes to play before Michael Gregoritsch completed the comeback with two minutes to go.

Real Madrid's David Alaba came off the bench after 46 minutes after Gregoritsch missed a first-half penalty.

"I've had enough of roller-coaster rides," Gregoritsch told broadcaster ORF. "I also have to apologize to the team for letting them worry for so long."

Dominik Szoboszlai's superb freekick set Hungary on its way to a 3-0 win over Bulgaria in Budapest as the host began its campaign clinically.

Elsewhere in Group G, Dusan Vlahovic's double was more than enough as Serbia beat Montenegro 2-0 in only their third meeting since Montenegro declared independence in 2006.

Vlahovic was not fully fit at the World Cup and Serbia went home without a win, but the Juventus forward was sharp on Monday, scoring late with a pair of left-foot strikes.

In Group E, the Czech Republic was held 0-0 by lowly Moldova. Karol Swiderski scored his ninth goal in 21 internationals as Poland beat Albania 1-0 after losing to the Czechs on Friday.


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