IRELAND take on the hosts France on Sunday. In-form Willie Duncan (@Willie_Duncan) shares his best bets with us.
France v Ireland | Sunday 14:00
Allez Les Verts! That was the shout on Wednesday night as Robbie Brady’s dramatic late winner against Italy sent Republic of Ireland into the knockout stages of the European Championships for the first time in their history.
The Irish fans – with our very own Mark O’Haire amongst the throng – were left partying like it was 1988 as their boys bagged their first win in this tournament for 28 years – and while Brady’s header may not have been quite as sweet for some Ireland fans as Ray Houghton’s winner against England was all those years ago, it was infinitely more important.
Les Bleus, though, lie in wait for Martin O’Neill’s men and it’s going to take another gargantuan effort from the Boys in Green if they’re going to spoil the French party by bundling the hosts out of their own tournament.
Backed into a corner against the Azzurri knowing that it was win or bust, O’Neill’s men came out fighting and showed a desire to get forward and cause problems for the opposition – and they did it to tremendous effect.
Antonio Conte, though, had left the door ajar for the Irish by making a number of changes to his team, mindful of Italy’s continued participation in the tournament and I don’t imagine that Didier Deschamps will be quite as generous this weekend.
France have barely been spectacular on home turf in the tournament thus far, but Les Bleus have conceded just once – from a penalty kick in their opening group game of the tournament – and the hosts will be expected to dominate against Ireland this weekend.
I expect that the Boys in Green, often so cautious, to revert to type and it would be little surprise if O’Neill’s outfit defended deep and look to catch France on the counter-attack rather than stand toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring and throw a few punches at their heavyweight opponent.
Such tactics, though, rely on remarkable defensive discipline – the clean sheet against what was, in essence, Italy’s second string was Ireland’s first clean sheet in six matches – and landing a big blow when the chance comes your way.
Ireland barely laid a glove on Belgium in Bordeaux and my fear is that Martin O’Neill’s men may be knocked out with more of a whimper than a bang against the host nation on Sunday night.
France to win to nil at 20/23, sadly, looks good to me and I think that it might well prove profitable on Sunday. Just don’t tell Mark…
France v Ireland – France to win to nil (20/23 Netbet)