DUBLIN -- Benjamin Pavard added another spectacular goal to his collection with an unstoppable second-half strike which secured France a narrow 1-0 win against the Republic of Ireland on Monday night.
A mistake by Ireland midfielder Josh Cullen gifted the ball to Pavard, but there seemed little danger until the Bayern Munich full-back unleashed a right-footed shot that crashed in off the underside of the crossbar. Ultimately, though, Les Bleus had goalkeeper Mike Maignan to thank for the win following his double save from Alan Browne and Nathan Collins in the 89th minute.
1. Maignan heroics seal France win in Dublin
Mike Maignan took a firm grip of the France No. 1 jersey following the retirement of World Cup winner Hugo Lloris with two stunning late saves to ensure a 1-0 victory for Didier Deschamps' team against the Republic of Ireland. The AC Milan keeper has been handed the chance to replace Lloris, who retired after Qatar 2022, by Deschamps ahead of Alphonse Areola and Brice Samba and he repaid his manager's faith in the Aviva Stadium.
Having cruised to an emphatic 4-0 win against the Netherlands in their Euro 2024 qualification opener on matchday one, France were less impressive against Stephen Kenny's Ireland in Dublin. They needed a spectacular goal by Pavard in the 50th minute, when the Bayern Munich full-back scored from 25 yards, to seal the win and keep France on top of Group B.
Ireland had not beaten France since October 1981 -- a run that now extends to nine games after this defeat -- but they could have snatched a famous win but for Maignan's late heroics.
He first kept out a goal-bound header from Browne in the 89th minute before producing an even better stop from the corner that followed seconds later. When Collins rose above the French defence to head Cullen's cross from six yards, the ball seemed destined for the top corner, but Maignan somehow managed to keep it out of the net.
It was a match-winning save by the goalkeeper, and it meant that France are now in firm control of qualification for the Euros. For Ireland, it was a losing start to the campaign, but they can take confidence from their performance and narrow defeat as they attempt to claim second spot ahead of the Dutch and Greece.
2. Pavard bolsters reputation with another stunning goal
Is there a better right-back in world football right now than Pavard? If there is, it's difficult to pinpoint a player who is in better form than the France and Bayern Munich defender.
The 26-year-old sprang to prominence with his stunning goal during France's 3-2 win against Argentina at Russia 2018, and he scored with another outstanding strike in Dublin on Monday, beating Ireland keeper Gavin Bazunu with a 25-yard shot that flew in off the underside of the crossbar. But while Pavard has a reputation for the spectacular, his primary role is to defend, and he was exceptional for Deschamps' team in this narrow win.
Pavard has pace, he reads the game well and is a clean tackler. And yes, he can contribute to devastating effect going forward, as shown by his goal.
England's Trent Alexander-Arnold has Pavard's attacking qualities, but none of his defensive capabilities. Kyle Walker's pace is on a par with Pavard's, but he doesn't have the Bayern man's ability going forward.
This was a night when all eyes were on Kylian Mbappe, and that is usually the case when France play, but just like Mbappe, Pavard is also in a league of his own.
3. Tough night, but signs of promise for Ferguson
Evan Ferguson is destined for big things in his career for club and country, but the Brighton & Hove Albion striker had a tough learning experience against France. The 18-year-old has scored seven goals in 16 first-team appearances for the Seagulls this season and he is already seeing his name linked with a move to Manchester United.
For those clubs looking for an emerging centre-forward, the teenager from County Meath ticks so many boxes in terms of his goal record, physical stature and ease with which he has adjusted to the Premier League in his first season as a professional.
But in only his fourth appearance for Ireland, Ferguson was given a mountain to climb against France defenders Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate. The French central defensive pair developed an understanding while playing together at RB Leipzig before moving on to Bayern Munich and Liverpool, respectively, so they teamed up to nullify Ferguson.
Yet despite the Champions League experience that he was up against, Ferguson was a handful for both defenders, and he was substituted on 65 minutes, replaced by Adam Idah, after running himself into the ground. Ferguson will be better for the experience of this game, and whichever big club signs him, they will be getting an excellent young player.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Dayot Upamecano, France. With Raphael Varane having retired from international football, there is a leadership gap to be filled in the France defence, and Upamecano showed he can be the man to fill it.
BEST: Gavin Bazunu, Republic of Ireland. The Ireland goalkeeper had no chance with Pavard's goal and he gave a calm and commanding performance for Kenny's team.
WORST: Josh Cullen, Republic of Ireland. A tough night for the Burnley midfielder against France's array of talent, and it was his mistake that led to Pavard's second-half goal.
WORST: Jayson Molumby, Republic of Ireland. The West Brom midfielder spent most of the game chasing French shadows. A learning experience if nothing else.
Highlights and notable moments
Pavard may not score many, but when he does score ... look out. What a thing of beauty from the right-back.
BENJAMIN PAVARD 🇫🇷— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 27, 2023
Frances claims the 1-0 lead over Ireland after a spectacular finish from the right back! pic.twitter.com/GkbwvuWQEK
After the match: What the players/managers said
Deschamps: "This allows us to keep the three points. Mike is Mike. It's not easy to take Lloris' place, but he's been with us for a while. He has a lot of strength, so much the better."
Chiedozie Ogbene: "There are positives to take and we had enough chances to take a point, at least. I'm devastated for the guys, we gave everything. I said it before, we trained to win this game and were unfortunate not to get a result. We should be very proud, we matched one of the best teams in the world and the future is bright."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
- Pavard's goal was his first for France since November 2020 vs. Sweden.
- Two of Pavard's three international goals have been from outside the box, with Monday's strike from a distance of 22.2 meters
Republic of Ireland: Ireland are next in action on June 16, when they'll visit Greece for another European Championship qualifier.
France: Les Bleus also return to international play on June 16 with a Euro 2024 qualifying match of their own at Gibraltar.