The Republic of Ireland were unable to enact their revenge against France on Monday evening as they slipped to a 1-0 defeat inside the Aviva Stadium in their opening Euro 2024 qualifying match.
Two years prior, Ireland also suffered a 1-0 home defeat in a qualifying match as Luxembourg pulled off a huge upset inside Dublin. However, there was a lot more praise for this latest defeat as they showed signs of real progress in their play.
A sublime finish from Benjamin Pavard was the difference between the two sides in the Irish capital, but the Boys In Green very nearly rescued a point at the death. French goalkeeper Mike Maignan pulled off an incredible stop to deny Nathan Collins at the death. It was a cruel defeat for Ireland because they went toe-to-toe with the World Cup finalists in what was always going to be their biggest test in the quest to qualify for next summer's tournament in Germany.
Stephen Kenny’s men laid down a marker with a commendable performance that should give them a huge confidence boost for their remaining qualifiers. Back when the qualifying draw was made in October, Ireland were written off by many to be able to qualify for Euro 2024 after Group B was completed given they were going to be facing then-World champions France and the Netherlands.
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A lot of those people will have witnessed last night a team that will not just roll over against the best teams in the world and that they have what it takes to compete at this level. Kenny has been overseeing a revolution of the national team in the past few years and we are seeing a lot of exciting young talents breaking through who look to be key parts of the Ireland team for at least the next decade.
Everyone is excited about teenage striker sensation Evan Ferguson, but they are also stirred over sparkling winger Mikey Johnston (who switched international allegiance from Scotland), and goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu - who has all the attributes to be one of the best shot-stoppers in the world. This project is very much still in its infancy but Ireland do have some impressive talent at their disposal and can certainly cause some disruption among the international elite in their own Euro bid.
There is a lot of exciting talent coming through at the moment and the average age of the side is around 23 which is another measurement of Kenny's progress since taking over the reins from Mick McCarthy in 2020. After all, they’ve shown that they can cause problems for the likes of France, so they can definitely cause a few headaches for the Netherlands, Greece and Gibraltar. While there was disappointment with the defeat to Les Bleus, there were far more positives to take for the rest of their qualifying campaign.
In three months’ time, Ireland will face a double header against Gibraltar and Greece, and Kenny’s players will already see those two fixtures as must wins because these are ultimately the ties that all qualifying teams need to take maximum points from. Then, when it comes to taking on France again, as well as the Netherlands, these are the fixtures that will most likely determine their fate and make or break their Euro dream. But as we saw on Monday night, they are not fazed by any opponent they face which is key to success on this stage.
It was enjoyable to see the Boys in Green not bow down to France's game plan and instead looked to play their own way, setting up an interesting match inside the Aviva and giving fans a lot of hope for the future with the current crop of talent.
Ireland have set themselves a standard now that they must build on in the coming international breaks because the qualifiers will come thick and fast. They just need to find a way to turn these strong performances into three points and they could be set to surprise a lot of people this year. We've seen Wales and Scotland enjoy impressive revivals in the past few years and you get the feeling that it's now Ireland's time to make a splash on the international scene.