France kept alive their hopes of a Euro triumph on home soil with a battling 2-1 win over plucky Ireland. A quickfire Antoine Griezmann double canceled out an early Irish penalty and sent Les Bleus into the last eight.
France struggled to break down a determined Irish defence after Robbie Brady struck from the spot in only the second minute.
An attack-minded tactical switch from coach Didier Deschamps at the break, when he brought on Bayern Munich winger Kingsley Coman in place of defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante, changed the complexion of the game and France ultimately ran out comfortable winners.
Chasing a first continental title for 16 years, since when they have failed to win a knockout game at the Euros, France will meet the winners of Monday’s last 16 clash between England and Iceland in the quarterfinals. Les Bleus will be without Kante and Adil Rami for the next stage after reaching the suspension threshold.
The French fans thronging the 58,000-capacity Stade de Lyon were stunned into silence when midfielder Paul Pogba felled Ireland’s Shane Long in the box with barely a minute on the clock.
It was the two nations’ first meeting since a 2010 World Cup qualifying playoff in November 2009, when a Thierry Henry handball led directly to Ireland’s elimination, and the Ireland fans may have felt it was sweet revenge for that injustice.
Brady smashed his penalty in off a post for the second quickest goal at a European Championship after Dmitri Kirichenko’s 68-second effort for Russia against Greece at Euro 2004.
France immediately surged forward in search of an equalizer but Darren Randolph in the Ireland goal was equal to any threat.
Ireland also had a couple more chances with Daryl Murphy forcing Hugo Lloris into a diving save and Shane Duffy heading wide.
It needed some desperate Irish defending to stop a sustained French attack just before the break.
Dimitri Payet twisted and turned in the area before his effort was blocked and Griezmann also failed to find a way through the massed Irish defence moments later.
Ireland still looked dangerous on the counter and Lloris had to clear at full stretch in the 52nd minute with Long lurking.
France were level six minutes later. Randolph got his fingertips to Griezmann’s powerful header from Bacary Sagna’s excellent cross but could not prevent the ball flying past him into the net.
Griezmann’s second came three minutes later when he ran on to Olivier Giroud’s fine headed layoff and fired low past Randolph into the corner.
It was the Atletico Madrid forward’s third goal of the tournament, putting him joint top of the scoring chart with Gareth Bale of Wales and Spain’s Alvaro Morata.
A nightmarish spell for Ireland continued when defender Duffy chopped Griezmann down when he was clean through on goal in the 66th minute and was shown a straight red card.
Substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac came close to making it 3-1 13 minutes from time when he curled a shot against the crossbar with Randolph beaten.
Ireland made a couple of forays forward in the closing stages but did little to trouble Lloris and his defenders.
France (1984) are one of three nations to have won the European Championship as hosts, along with Spain (1964) and Italy (1968).
Ireland’s best performance at a major tournament came in 1990 when they reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup in Italy.