DUBLIN: With Kylian Mbappe kept quiet, France relied on another brilliant finish from recalled defender Benjamin Pavard and two sensational late saves by Mike Maignan to win at Ireland 1-0 in European Championship qualifying on Monday.
Making his first appearance since France’s opening match of last year’s World Cup, Pavard intercepted a stray pass just outside Ireland’s area and sent in a shot that glanced in off the underside of the crossbar in the 50th.
It was the right back’s third goal for France and all three have been screamers. His first, against Argentina in the 2018 World Cup, was voted goal of the tournament.
France made it back-to-back wins to open Group B but this was far from the easy ride that the Netherlands gave Les Bleus in a 4-0 thrashing on Friday. That night, Mbappe scored twice in his first match as France captain but the striker was barely a factor against a resolute Ireland team which defended stoutly early on before piling on the pressure near the end at the Aviva Stadium.
It needed Maignan to produce two stunning stops at corners — first off his own teammate, Jules Kounde, and then from a header from Ireland defender Nathan Collins that was heading into the top corner — to preserve the win.
“It was a tough game. Ireland are always difficult to play here,” France manager Didier Deschamps said. “They were dangerous at the end, especially from set-pieces. We have a young team, but they have quality and character, too.”
France brought Olivier Giroud back into the lineup and the striker, at 36 years, 178 days, became the oldest outfield player in the history of the national team to start.
Giroud was also quiet, though was involved in the highlight of a low-key first half when his header at a corner took a double deflection before Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazuna flopped on the ball at Mbappe’s feet.
It fell to Pavard to produce the magic.
“The World Cup didn’t go the way I would have imagined,” the defender said. “But I was happy after every win, I was there for the collective.”
It was Ireland’s opening game of group play.
“We’re disappointed and frustrated, but that’s why they’re such a good team,” Ireland captain Seamus Coleman said of France. “We didn’t allow them a lot of chances. I thought we defended well, kept them quiet.”