PARIS • Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill believes France are capable of winning the World Cup after seeing them get the better of his team in a friendly on Monday evening.
France won 2-0 on a wet night, with Olivier Giroud and Nabil Fekir scoring the goals in the first half, and Ireland struggled to get near the ball at the Stade de France.
"They are very strong, individually they have got a lot of talent in their team. I think they're one of the favourites for the World Cup," said O'Neill.
It was the first meeting of the sides since Antoine Griezmann's goals gave hosts France a 2-1 win in Lyon in the round of 16 of the last European Championship.
Only three France players in Monday's game - Adil Rami, Giroud and Blaise Matuidi - also started in that match at Euro 2016.
France stars Griezmann, Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante did not start but Giroud, Fekir and Corentin Tolisso impressed in their absence.
Giroud's opener saw him join Zinedine Zidane (31) as France's fourth highest all-time leading scorer, behind only Thierry Henry (51), Michel Platini (41) and David Trezeguet (34).
I don't want to put pressure on their coach, but I think they have improved... and they are perhaps a better side than they were two years ago.
MARTIN O'NEILL, Republic of Ireland manager.
Impressive surges from full-backs Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe also showed Les Bleus have attacking power outside their collection of talented forwards.
"I don't want to put pressure on their coach, but I think they have improved in the last two years and they are perhaps a better side than they were two years ago," O'Neill added.
His side missed out on qualifying for a place in Russia after losing to Denmark in a play-off.
The visitors started with seven players from last season's English Premier League and had Colin Doyle of English third-tier side Bradford City start in goal. Graham Burke of League of Ireland side Shamrock Rovers also came off the bench in the second half.
Ireland failed to muster a single attempt on target until stoppage time, when France keeper Steve Mandanda denied Shaun Williams.
France manager Didier Deschamps, part of his country's 1998 World Cup-winning side, refused to get carried away despite the result.
"The game maybe didn't meet all my expectations, but we controlled it well, got the breakthrough before half-time and our movement was good, so there were plenty of good things to take from it," he said.
France will host Italy in Nice on Friday and the United States in Lyon on June 9.
Their World Cup campaign begins against Australia in the Russian city of Kazan on June 16, before also facing Peru and Denmark.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS