DUBLIN – It was not easy for France to bounce back from their World Cup final heartbreak in December, and coach Didier Deschamps praised his players for giving it their all during this international break.
Benjamin Pavard marked his return to international duty by scoring the only goal as France defeated Ireland 1-0 in a Euro 2024 qualifier in Dublin on Monday.
“We had a tough schedule, coming here after playing on Friday (4-0 win against the Netherlands),” said Deschamps.
“We were coming up against an opposition that were fresh and had the public behind them.
“We might not have played as well, but Ireland defended well. We didn’t create so many chances, but we did what we had to do to win.
“This is a tough place to come, but I’m happy and proud of my team.
“We scored four goals on Friday, we didn’t pose as much of a threat today, but I think that speaks to the strength of Ireland’s defence.
“The fact we didn’t concede is so important, especially in a close game like today’s.”
France goalkeeper Mike Maignan had to make two fine saves late on to deny Ireland a draw in the hosts’ opening qualifier.
Victory meant Les Bleus had won both their opening Group B games, following their convincing defeat of the Netherlands.
Bayern Munich defender Pavard, making his first appearance for France since their opening group game of the World Cup in Qatar, struck five minutes into the second half after intercepting Josh Cullen’s pass just outside the box.
Deschamps, turning to Pavard, added: “He’s on the way back up and it’s him who won the game for us.
“Anyone can struggle for form and now he’s coming back to his best.”
The France coach made three changes to the side that overwhelmed the Dutch, with Pavard replacing Jules Kounde, Eduardo Camavinga coming in for Aurelien Tchouameni and Olivier Giroud taking over from Kingsley Coman.
Seamus Coleman overcame a thigh injury to captain Ireland in one of six changes to the side who beat Latvia 3-2 in a friendly last Wednesday.
That meant a first competitive start for teenager Evan Ferguson, a striker with Premier League outfit Brighton & Hove Albion.
The 18-year-old, who has been linked with Manchester United, had scored his first international goal against Latvia.
France dominated the first half but created few clear chances.
But their goal finally arrived in the 50th minute, with the 26-year-old Pavard firing in a powerful shot past Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu that went in off the underside of the crossbar.
France were almost punished for failing to double their advantage when substitute Kounde headed the ball towards his own net, only for Maignan to make a stunning stop.
Moments later, the AC Milan custodian, 27, made another world-class save from a header before France survived three minutes of time added-on.
“Mike is Mike,” said Deschamps. “It’s not easy taking over (from the retired Hugo Lloris) but ever since he has been with us, he’s been great.”
Ireland coach Stephen Kenny, meanwhile, was disappointed that his side did not get at least a draw, but expressed pride that his men had kept Kylian Mbappe quiet.
Kenny, who believes France are the best team in the world, even though they lost in the World Cup final, said: “We’ve watched France’s last 20 games and I’ve never seen Kylian, who I voted for as the best player in the world, have such a quiet night.
“We didn’t concede any chances up to the goal and that was disappointing... So disappointed not to get at least a point.” AFP, REUTERS