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Ireland fall to narrow loss against high-quality France

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The Republic of Ireland were typically honest and committed at Stade Saint Symphorien, but those qualities were not enough to stop a supreme France earning a deserved, and in truth comfortable, 1-0 win in their opening Euro 2025 qualifier.

Eileen Gleeson said in the build-up that her side were in Metz to win; however a 5-4-1 formation betrayed the fact they knew that was realistically beyond them. A point here would have been monumental, and in fairness Ireland kept themselves in it right to the end despite coughing up an early goal and being pinned back for most of the contest.

Marie Antoinette Katoto tapped home a seventh-minute opener after lax Irish defending, and it felt like the floodgates would open.

They didn’t, despite Herve Renard’s world No 3-ranked aristocrats bombarding the Irish rearguard all night.

Ireland rarely threatened, though they did at least make the home fans a little twitchy with a rally in the last five minutes that saw Caitlin Hayes glance a huge Megan Campbell throw into the arms of the keeper.

That was as good as it got, and Gleeson must now recharge her squad for Tuesday’s massive encounter with England at the Aviva Stadium.

The build-up was overshadowed by the desperately sad news that Colin Healy’s wife Kelly has passed away. Healy didn’t travel to Metz, with Stephen Rice stepping in to fulfil his coaching duties.

There were cat calls from the second minute when Brosnan took her time with a kickout – the natives irritated by the first hint Ireland had arrived with the intention of spoiling the party.

But their mood would soon be lifted.

France pressured Ireland from the off, with Kadidiatou Diani feeding the marauding Eve Perisset, who slid in a wicked cross that was booted away by Heather Payne.

Moments later, Delphine Cascarino scorched past Payne down Ireland’s right side and guided in another teaser that was scrambled out for a corner.

Ireland wouldn’t hold out for much longer.

Payne coughed up a cheap free in the sixth minute when she bundled over Sandie Toletti. It was pinged towards Maelle Lakrar, who peeled off Hayes’ shoulder and cushioned a volley across the face of goal that was gleefully tapped home by Katoto.

France had landed the early punch they craved; Ireland looked like they were seeing stars.

After a horribly wobbly start, the Girls in Green did steady themselves for a spell. Payne weaved into the box but lost her footing just as she tried to execute her shot; Katie McCabe sold her marker a super dummy before drilling in a cross that France eventually cleared.

Encouraging moments, but Ireland were being taken to the cleaners down France’s left side.

Gleeson’s side struggled to get to grips with the hosts’ carousel of attacking talent. Kadidiatou Diani, Cascarino and Sakina Karchaoui offered dizzying movement and pace that somehow made Ireland – with their five at the back – look light on defensive numbers.

Ireland just couldn’t play their way out of trouble, with one McCabe clearance getting turned over and leading to Toletti unleashing a dipping 30-yarder that was brilliantly tipped over the bar by Courtney Brosnan.

One triangle of passing involving McCabe, O’Sullivan and debutante Anna Patten in Ireland’s left-back area went around in circles, broke down and almost ended with Kenza Dali lashing in a second; her attempt screwing wide. Barely a minute later O’Sullivan got caught in possession by Katoto who teed up Grace Geyoro in the box. It should have been 2-0; instead Geyoro sliced a poor attempt so badly off target that stayed in play.

One down at the break, Ireland re-emerged with the same 5-4-1 formation that had seen them surrender midfield in favour of a safety-in-numbers approach to defence.

They also had the weapon of Campbell’s long throw, the London City Lionesses defender coming on for the ineffective Emily Murphy at half-time.

However the French continued to probe. Katoto teased in yet another wicked cross from the right; then Diani looped a header into Brosnan’s arms.

In the 53rd minute Metz got its first glimpse of the famous Campbell throw when she catapulted a huge delivery towards the home box. France dealt with it, but there was an audible gasp from the crowd when Campell showed off her USP.

Still, the blue waves of attack did not recede. Approaching the hour mark, the excellent Lakrar drew a sharp stop from Brosnan when she got her head to a cross from the right.

The gulf between these countries was underlined by the fact Renard was able to summon star striker Eugenie Le Sommer from the bench on 62 minutes. Three minutes later, she floated away from three Irish defenders to thump a super header off the top of the crossbar.

Ireland plugged away, toiling to try and get a foothold. Just as they made some hard-earned yards upfield, a quick turnover allowed Diani to escape down the right again. She burned Patten for pace and teased in a ball that Brosnan finger-tipped to safety.

France were uncompromisingly physical too. Substitute Amber Barrett was in the game less than ten minutes before she hobbled off to be replaced by Lucy Quinn.

The pattern of the game stayed the same until the last five minutes, when Hayes headed a Campbell straight at Peyraud-Magnin and Leanne Kiernan spurned a golden chance to pick out McCabe in the box, the Liverpool forward lashing a wild cross/shot towards the stands.

Campbell’s throws had the partisan crowd on edge but France dealt with them well. Indeed in the last meaningful attack of the game, Sandy Baltimore almost scored a terrific individual goal, only to be denied by another impressive Brosnan stop.

Defeat for Ireland in France. Next up, England at the Aviva Stadium.

France: Pauline Peyraud-Magnin; Maelle Lakrar, Griedge Mbock Bathy, Eve Perisset (Wendie Renard 77), Sakina Karchaoui; Sandie Toletti (Amandine Henry 77), Kenza Dali; Grace Geyoro (capt), Kadidiatou Diani (Sandy Baltimore 84), Marie Antoinette Katoto (Eugenie Le Sommer 62); Delphine Cascarino (Vicki Becho 62)

Republic of Ireland: Courtney Brosnan; Heather Payne (Leanne Kiernan 64), Anna Patten, Caitlin Hayes, Louise Quinn, Aoife Mannion (Jessie Stapleton 89); Emily Murphy (Megan Campbell HT), Megan Connolly, Denise O’Sullivan; Katie McCabe (capt); Kyra Carusa (Amber Barrett 64)

Refree: Maria Caputi (Italy)

Attendance: 16,772

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