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Why the Republic of Ireland have nothing to fear against France

Saturday 25th June 2016
Martin O'Neill's side will walk out on the pitch at Stade des Lumières on Sunday afternoon in a historic moment for the Emerald Isle, the Republic of Ireland's first ever knock-out game at a European Championship.

This feat alone demonstrates that this Irish squad have done enough to be mentioned in the same ilk with their counterparts of Italia 90 (who reached the quarter-finals against all odds) as national sporting heroes. Their compelling 1-0 win against Italy this week will be retold in years to come when fans of this generation talk about their memories of The Boys in Green on the big stage.

And so it should be. Drawn in what was easily this tournaments' ‘group of death' with Gil Azzurri, Belgium and Sweden, Ireland were effectively written-off before a ball had been kicked.

Yet the mentality stemming from the camp has altered significantly since their acrimonious departure from the same tournament four years prior, where under Giovanni Trapattoni, Ireland scored just once and leaked nine to finish bottom of their group.

Under the tutelage of the enigmatic O'Neill and ambitious former captain Roy Keane, an attitude has been instilled in the team that they're not here just to make up the numbers. This was demonstrated in an encouraging draw against Sweden and the aforementioned win against Italy, sandwiched in-between an out-of-character rout by the impressive Belgians.

This all came before qualifying for the tournament in a group with World Champions Germany and the dangerous Poland. In hindsight, taking on such talent has allowed Ireland to learn valuable lessons that perhaps other, more fancied nations have yet to gain at this stage: quality can only get you so far, what makes the difference at this level is discipline and a core belief that you can win.

This ethos is now firmly in their minds and Ireland will show no fear in facing a French team who, despite possessing an abundance of world class talent, have been less than inspiring so far.

Favourites Les Bleus have struggled with the defensive organisation of their opponents, needing late goals to defeat Romania and Albania, whilst only managing a goalless draw with Switzerland to win their group.

In front of an expectant home crowd this weekend, France will be under immense pressure to make easy work of their opponents and waltz into a fancied quarter-final meeting with Roy Hodgson's inconsistent England.

Having won the only other tournaments to be held on their soil (Euro 1984 and World Cup 1998), Didier Deschamps men have become one of the bookie's favourites in thanks to what is perceived to be a plausible route to the final in Paris on 10th July.
In the eyes of many, only a possible semi-final with Spain, Italy, or Germany will stand in their way of a third home triumph.

Between now and then, every ball kicked by France will be under intense scrutiny; every touch assessed and every decision analysed.

In contrast, for the Irish and their famous following, this is simply another day in the sun where anything is possible.

There are ways to win, which O'Neill and Keane will be all too aware of.

Set-pieces will be key for Irish to gain any momentum and on the back of their performances so far, it is something they're capable of. If they're able to keep France quiet up-front, counter-attacks will be there through the middle of the park.

The tools are there to do it; with the pace of Shane Long up front and the industrious midfield of Jeff Hendrick, Glenn Whelan, Wes Hoolahan and James McClean bursting from box-to-box, Ireland can cause problems for an unreliable French back-four that includes the ageing pair of Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna, and the unpredictable Laurent Koscielny.

That's not to say that victory would not be an enormous task for Ireland given what is against them, but it isn't impossible, and having come this far, that's all the belief they need.
John Howell

A graduate of Media & Cultural Studies from the University of West of England, I am a 26-year-old sports fanatic based in Bristol and an avid supporter of Newcastle United. I have written for several sites before joining It's Round and It's White and although I write primarily on the subject of football, you can catch me playing rugby on the weekends, no pun intended.

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