LYON: Antoine Griezmann scored twice in four minutes as Euro 2016 hosts France came from behind to claim a 2-1 win over ten-man Republic of Ireland on Sunday.
Victory in the last 16 clash in Lyon means France face either England or Iceland in the Stade de France quarter-final next Sunday.
Paul Pogba brought Shane Long down within seconds of kickoff and Robbie Brady, who netted the Republic’s winner against Italy, converted a penalty with just two minutes gone to give the Irish a shock lead.
But Griezmann underlined a superb performance as the main strike threat with two knockout goals in the second-half as the hosts floored the Irish.
“At this stage of the tournament you don’t have the right not to qualify,” French coach Didier Deschamps said, expressing relief at the fightback as French fans celebrated.
Ireland’s problems were compounded by playing the last 25 minutes with ten men.
Centre-back Shane Duffy was sent off on 66 minutes for bringing down Griezmann, who was through on goal.
France’s win came at a cost as both midfielder N’Golo Kante and defender Adil Rami are suspended for the quarter-final after picking up bookings.
Defeat means more heartache for the Irish in their first meeting with France since a controversial World Cup play-off in November 2009.
Thierry Henry’s infamous handball, dubbed ‘Le Hand of God’, helped seal a 2-1 aggregate victory to send France to South Africa 2010 at Ireland’s expense.
The Irish came flying out of the traps in Lyon.
A long ball caused the French all manner of problems and when Southampton striker Long tried to turn and shoot, Pogba made contact.
– Brady boy –
With just 70 seconds played, referee Nicola Rizzoli pointed straight to the spot.
Brady was again the darling of the travelling ‘Green Army’ as the Norwich City winger put the Irish ahead with a shot that rebounded off a post.
It was the fastest goal at a Euro finals since Russia’s Dimitri Kirichenko scored after 67 seconds against Greece in 2004.
Celebrations erupted amongst the small band lucky enough to get one of the paltry 4,500 tickets allocated to Irish fans at the 59,000-capacity stadium.
The hosts responded by laying seige to the Irish goal.
Griezmann, twice, and Olivier Giroud both tested Irish goalkeeper Darren Randolph, as did Pogba with a long-range free-kick.
No quarter was asked or given as things got heated on the pitch with four yellow cards dished out in the first-half.
France coach Didier Deschamps injected some pace after the break by bringing on fleet-footed winger Kingsley Coman for N’Golo Kante.
The French played at a much higher tempo and Randolph was thoroughly tested by Blaise Matuidi’s shot from just outside the box on 55 minutes.
France drew level when Griezmann rose highest to meet Sagna’s pin-point cross on 58 minutes.
Randolph got a glove on the bullet header, but it was destined only for the back of the net.
Griezmann struck again three minutes later when Giroud headed down into the Atletico Madrid winger’s path to slam his shot past Randolph.
With France in top gear, Duffy’s desperate lunge clipped Griezmann’s ankle on the edge of the area and Rizzoli had to show the Irishman the red card on 66 minutes.
Only Irish determination, and a lack of a final touch, prevented Griezmann finishing with a hat-trick.