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Thibault Camus The Ireland players applaud travelling fans at the end of the match.
# We're going home
Ireland go home with their heads held high and talking points from the defeat to France
It wasn’t to be their day despite taking an early lead against Didier Deschamp’s men, but the players proved they can compete at the highest level.

Ben Blake reports from Parc Olympique Lyonnais

1. Sticking with a winning team

AFTER THAT SPECIAL night in Lille, there was a lot of talk about whether Martin O’Neill would name an unchanged side to face France in the knockout stages.

Stephen Ward was the major injury worry going into tie, but the full-back was deemed fit enough to play as the same starting XI lined out.

It looked the right call as the Boys in Green took a second-minute lead and matched their opponents in every department during a promising first half.

However, the effort put in on Wednesday told after the break and those tired bodies were picked apart as the hosts scored twice in the space of three minutes, then Shane Duffy was shown a straight red card for chopping down Antoine Griezmann.

John O’Shea came into the backline after the sending off, while Jon Walters and Wes Hoolahan were thrown on to find an equaliser — but France’s extra man was evident.

2. The perfect start for Ireland

Even the most optimistic of Irish supporter would not have predicted the events of opening minutes.

Shane Long invited the challenge from Paul Pogba and the Juventus midfielder obliged — bringing him down inside the box. Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli pointed to the spot and Robbie Brady, the hero against Italy, placed his spot-kick past Hugo Lloris via the post.

It felt like an unforgettable moment but when Ireland didn’t add a second to their early goal, they were always going to give France ample time to stage a comeback and, sure enough, it came just before the hour mark.

3. Griezmann steps up to the plate

While Pogba and Griezmann appeared to be in a straight shootout to cement their status as the poster boy of this French team pre-tournament, it was Dimitri Payet who threw his hat into the ring during the group stages.

And although Pogba showed some incredible touches throughout today’s game, Atletico Madrid attacker Griezmann, with one goal to his name prior to today, stole the show and the man-of-the-match award with a three-minute brace.

The finishes — a 12-yard header from Bacary Sagna’s cross and a cool finish past Randolph after Olivier Giroud’s knock-down — were quite different in style, but equally as clinical.

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4. Duffy sees red and hands France the advantage

Named once again at the heart of Ireland’s defence, it looked, for the first 55 minutes at lease, like Shane Duffy was going to provide another accomplished display However, a lack of communication between him and defensive partner Richard Keogh led to France’s second goal.

France v Republic of Ireland - UEFA Euro 2016 - Round of 16 - Stade de Lyon Michael Sohn Duffy chops down Griezmann. Michael Sohn

And just minutes later, the 24-year-old was off for an early bath. Ireland’s defence was left completely exposed when Giroud played Griezmann in on goal. And he looked favourite to complete his hat-trick when Duffy threw himself at his opponent and took the man instead of the ball with a desperate, last-ditch tackle.

A reckless challenge, but uou have to feel some sympathy for the big defender as he really had little alternative but to bring him down.

5. Valiant effort bodes well for the short-term future

Martin O’Neill expressed enormous pride in how his players performed today and, after a hiccup along the way, Ireland can exit the tournament with their heads held high.

We were playing a real fine team in France, possibly the tournament favourites, and we really had a go,” he said, during his post-match press conference.

Despite the gulf in class, they stood toe-to-toe with Les Bleus for the guts of an hour and fans will maybe be left feeling what could have been.

Unlike four years ago, however, there should be a sense of positivity about how the past fortnight has unfolded. Belgium performance aside, this group of players proved on the international stage that they can mix it with some of the best.

Inevitably, there will be international retirements in the coming weeks and months — Robbie Keane and Shay Given appeared to wave goodbye to fans after the final whistle.

Heading into the  2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, the likes of Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, Shane Duffy, Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, James McCarthy and Shane Long should provide the spine of the team.

Here’s the French team to face Ireland in their Euro 2016 knockout tie

As you were! O’Neill makes no changes to starting XI to face France

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