Fun starts now but Deschamps won't underestimate Ireland

France coach Didier Deschamps promised more excitement as Euro 2016 reached the knockout stage, and said there was no chance of underestimating Ireland.

The hosts play Martin O'Neill's side in the last 16 in Lyon on Sunday and Deschamps said Saturday: "It's a knockout match so you are either through or out.

"It makes things more exciting but it’s not going to inhibit us or make us more fragile. It is like a new competition.”

Deschamps was keen to play down Ireland as being no more than a plucky band of battlers.

“Ireland have a lot of heart and they work very hard but it’s not just that, there have some good footballers in that team. The majority of them play in the Premier League," he said.

“We have seen from their first three matches that although they play a more direct game they can also keep the ball on the ground.

"There are some good players in their team – (Glenn) Whelan, (Jeff) Hendrick, (Wes) Hoolahan if he plays, (James) McCarthy, Shane Long – and they know what football is all about."

In spite of Deschamps' praise for the way Ireland play the emphasis will be on his France side putting on a show at the Stade de Lyon and he had words of encouragement for Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet.

Deschamps said: "Paul (Pogba) had a slightly more difficult match in the first game but then he came on and made an impact in the second game and did very well.

"There is always a lot of hype around him but he is still a young player and occasionally he needs a bit of calm and focus.”

Asked about West Ham's Payet he said: "I’m very happy with what Dimitri has done so far. He’s making the difference and is enjoying it.

"He’s been working hard to maintain his performance levels and that’s important as well. He doesn’t have huge experience within the national team but he knows how he has worked to get here.”

Ireland defender Richard Keogh was asked if Payet's club team-mate, goalkeeper Darren Randolph, might give Ireland some inside information on the France winger.

“Payet’s having a great tournament and he’s been great for West Ham," he said.

"We’ll tap into Darren's knowledge but we won’t have any special plans for him – it’s a team game.”

O'Neill said the current France side reminded him of the team that won the World Cup in 1998, but believes his group of "great players" can cause a shock.

He said: "They are hosts and favourites and they remind me in some ways of 1998.

"There had great pressure but they improved as the competition went on and eventually won it. This team might feel the same.”

But having seen his side beat Italy to qualify from Group E O'Neill believes they have no reason to fear Deschamps' side.

“Mental toughness has been very important," said O'Neill. "We had spurned a great, great chance with five minutes left against Italy and the players might have been thinking ‘That’s it’.

"Then Robbie Brady met a great, great ball, showed no fear whatsoever, and that goal epitomised the spirit in the team.

"We’ve got some great players, some players who can play. You couldn’t get four points from that group without great players.”

Last update: Sat, 25/06/2016 - 17:39

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