Martin O'Neill's side could give the tournament favourites a scare on Sunday afternoon.
No team is shorter than France to qualify for the quarter-finals which seems a little harsh on their opponents following the group stage. Didier Deschamps’ side finished top of Group A but they seldom impressed. It took a late Dmitri Payet wonder-goal to beat Romania in the tournament’s curtain-raiser while they laboured to a goalless draw with Switzerland in their final game. Between those games, two very late goals gave the hosts maximum points against group-minnows Albania.
Ireland were a little fortunate that Italy’s progression as group winners was secured before their match on Wednesday but that took nothing away from the joyous scenes after Robbie Brady’s 85th minute header moved them into the knockout phase of a major tournament for the first time since 2002. We had Ireland ranked as the worst in their group (narrowly behind Sweden) so advancing with four points is a mightily impressive acheivement for Martin O’Neill’s side.
France have been the higher ranked team in a knockout match six times this century and while they’ve won the tie (including the final of Euro 2000) five times they’ve secured the victory in 90 minutes on just three occasions. The Euros followed the same format from 1996 to 2012 where 16 teams started the tournament and then the top-two in each group made up the quarter-finalists. The expansion to 24 teams has thrown a spanner in the works and created eight new knockout matches this time around.
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In the 35 knockouts since 1996 (ignoring consolation matches) the higher ranked side has won in 90 minutes just 14 times while an incredible 24 of the matches have had Under 2.5 Goals. 19 of the 35 were goalless at the break. We would expect this match to follow a similar theme to all of France’s group matches where their opponents sat back and kept things tight. All three of France’s games in Group A were 0-0 at half-time.
Ireland, along with Hungary, made it to the knockout stage of 2016 despite being involved in a playoff to reach the group stage. The Boys in Green beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 on aggregate to get to France. 10 of their last 13 competitive matches have featured Under 2.5 Goals including both legs in that playoff. The outsiders here have faced top-10 opposition seven times in recent years including friendlies and won just once – an incredible 1-0 victory over the World champions in qualifying. Five of the seven fixtures had Under 2.5 Goals and four were goalless at the interval.
France and Ireland haven’t faced each other for a while but they were drawn in the same qualifying group for the 2006 World Cup and squared off in the infamous Thierry Henry handball incident in the 2010 World Cup play-off. All of the four matches had Under 1.5 Goals and three were 0-0 at half-time. While France have a big boost from being at home in this match it’s worth noting that in all Finals matches since 2000 teams where a team have been 20-30 places higher ranked than their opponents the favourites have won just 11 of 27 matches. They’ve rarely lost though (just four times and not since 2006) but it’s enough to put us off steaming into France at shorter than 1.50. 13 of the games were goalless at half-time and 12 ended level.
The Draw/Draw at 5.40 is a great selection here as the Irish will look to defend, defend and defend as they’ve done successfully in the past. The French will be under immense pressure and we think they’ll struggle to break their opponents down, particularly in the first half.
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