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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 25 April, 2019

Ireland fit the right 'profile' for France and the talking points ahead of tonight's friendly

The Boys in Green are in Paris to face Didier Deschamps’ men this evening.

Martin O'Neill at the Stade de France yesterday.
Martin O'Neill at the Stade de France yesterday.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ben Blake reports from Paris

1. Back at a familiar venue

THE CIRCUMSTANCES ARE very different, but tonight Ireland return to the scene of their opening Euro 2016 game to take on the nation that knocked them out of that same tournament.

Both managers are still in their jobs, and while Didier Deschamps is preparing to mount a challenge for the World Cup, which begins in a couple of weeks, Martin O’Neill is aiming to build for the short-term future after missing out on a place at the finals in embarrassing fashion last November.

Of the 23-man Ireland squad that travelled to the European championships two years ago, just seven are included this time around for a multitude of reasons. So there is potentially scope for fringe players to force their way into the manager’s plans with a solid performance against formidable opponents this evening.

The newly-formed Uefa Nations League is just around the corner as it gets underway in September and then it will be onto the Euro 2020 qualifiers early next year.

2. League of Ireland rewarded

The inclusions of Shamrock Rovers forward Graham Burke and Bohemians goalkeeper Shane Supple for double-header of friendlies have been given plenty of coverage over the past week, and most will see it as a positive that the League of Ireland is being recognised by our international manager.

If either player gets on to win their first senior Ireland cap, the debut will be as a result of hard work and dedication, which allowed the pair to overcome setbacks in their respective careers.

While Burke returned home after spells with Aston Villa and Notts County, 31-year-old Supple’s story is even more remarkable as he decided to pack in professional football during Roy Keane’s tenure at Ipswich Town and only went back playing six years later in 2015.

3. Goalkeepers short of experience

The aforementioned Supple is one of three goalkeepers involved for Ireland, along with Bradford City’s Colin Doyle and Conor O’Malley of Peterborough United.

The trio were named due to injuries to Darren Randolph, Keiren Westwood and Rob Elliot, and Doyle is the most experienced at this level with two caps to his name — when the second arrived against Turkey in March it was just short of 11 years on from his debut.

When you consider the firepower that could be on show for the French, it is a daunting prospect for whoever lines out in between the sticks for Ireland. O’Neill will most likely go with Doyle, but O’Malley could well make a cameo appearance just as he did against Celtic last weekend.

4. What of the French?

France v Republic of Ireland - UEFA Euro 2016 - Round of 16 - Stade de Lyon Antoine Griezmann after scoring against Ireland at Euro 2016. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

It speaks volumes about the depth of France’s talent pool that Deschamps could afford to leave Manchester United forward Anthony Martial and Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette out of his final World Cup panel, while continuing to overlook Champions League-winning Karim Benzema due to his involvement in a sex-tape blackmail scandal a few years back.

Antoine Griezmann almost single-handedly destroyed the Irish defence when the sides last met in Lyon and, the Atletico Madrid star (who is rumoured to be off to Barcelona) comes into the friendly on the back of his two-goal haul in the Europa League final.

Also vying for a place in France’s attacking line is Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud, PSG’s teen sensation Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Demebele of Barcelona, Monaco winger Thomas Lemar and the highly-rated Nabil Fekir, who plies his trade at Lyon.

In his press conference yesterday, the French boss explained how they picked Ireland as opponents because they have a similar “profile” to their Group C opponents Australia — adding that he expected a tough test and confirming that Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda and Juventus Blaise Matuidi will both start.

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Ben Blake

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