The Republic of Ireland made a losing start to Euro 2024 qualifying as Benjamin Pavard’s superb second-half goal gave France victory in Dublin.
Having held the French in a first half of few chances, the Republic fell behind five minutes after the restart when Pavard intercepted a Josh Cullen pass and fired past Gavin Bazunu.
The Republic put the beaten World Cup finalists under severe pressure late on but fell short as Mike Maignan’s stunning save denied Nathan Collins a late leveller.
The Republic’s next qualifier sees them travel to Greece on 16 June.
But while the Irish must wait nearly three months to try and get points on the board, France are already well on their way to qualifying for next year’s finals in Germany after backing up their rout of the Netherlands with a narrow win in front of a raucous Dublin crowd.
While Les Bleus blew the Dutch away on Friday with three goals inside the opening 22 minutes, they were gifted the winner at the Aviva Stadium as Pavard punished a sloppy pass in devastating fashion with a brilliant right-footed shot.
From there, many would have expected the French to coast to three points but with Didier Deschamps’ side unable to find a second, the Irish pushed for what would have been an impressive point.
And they would have earned a draw had it not been for Maignan, who produced a series of impressive stops to outshine his more illustrious team-mates and leave the Irish frustrated.
Having starred on his first outing as France captain with two goals against the Dutch, eyes were naturally drawn to Kylian Mbappe in Dublin.
But while the Paris St-Germain superstar showed flashes of quality, he was upstaged by Bayern Munich right-back Pavard, who slammed a rasping shot in off the underside of Bazunu’s crossbar after cutting out Cullen’s attempted pass to Jason Knight.
Pavard’s goal came after a first half in which France struggled to break down a stubborn home defence and the visitors were further troubled by a spirited Irish side in the closing stages when they had AC Milan goalkeeper Maignan to thank for the win.
The 27-year-old tipped a deflected James McClean effort around the post for a corner and displayed impressive reflexes to stop Jules Kounde heading into his own goal.
But Maignan saved his best for last as at full stretch he got a strong right hand to Collins’ top corner-bound header, with the Republic defender’s anguish etched on his face as he collapsed to the turf at the full-time whistle.
Given how his side pressed for a goal during a gripping conclusion to the game, Republic boss Stephen Kenny will be disappointed to come away empty-handed but can draw encouragement after watching his players unnerve the team ranked third in the world.
The Irish will now turn their attention to June’s two-match window, with Gibraltar to visit Dublin after the Republic’s trip to Greece, as they attempt to qualify for their first tournament since Euro 2016.