Euro 2016 previews: Thierry Henry handball gives Ireland extra motivation against France
France v Rep of Ireland, 5pm (UAE time)
PARIS // Thierry Henry’s handball sent such shockwaves that barely anyone remembers it was actually William Gallas who scored the infamous goal France that ruined Ireland’s chances of a World Cup appearance more than six years ago.
On Sunday, Les Bleus face the Irish in Lyon in a Euro 2016 last-16 clash in which the host nation will start as heavy favourites.
In the stands, there is little doubt the Irish fans, who are enjoying growing popularity in France thanks to their good-natured presence in the streets across the country, will outsing the local supporters.
Qualification for a quarter-final against Iceland or England, however, will be decided on the field, where the Irish will take extra motivation from the drama at the Stade de France in 2009.
“It is absolutely [extra motivation], but we’ve got all the motivation in the world here regardless of that, we’ve got a side that are prepared and actually love playing for their country and that’s very, very important. It’s a driving force,” Ireland manager Martin O’Neill said.
His assistant Roy Keane says the team have the qualities to trouble the French, who have been remarkably quiet on the Henry incident.
“It’s massive game against France who will be red-hot favourites,” he said, adding that Ireland’s goal was to create another bit of history.
Keane hopes Ireland will make the most of their set pieces. “I’d like to think every time we get the ball in the box their fans will be nervous wrecks,” he said.
Germany v Slovakia, 8pm
EVIAN // Germany will decide on the eve of their Euro 2016 last-16 match against Slovakia on Sunday whether defender Jerome Boateng can help them to another clean sheet en route to what they hope is their fourth continental crown.
Boateng did not train with the team on Friday, undergoing an individual session involving cycling and jogging as he battles to overcome a calf muscle injury.
The central defender sustained the injury in their final group win over Northern Ireland, with manager Joachim Low forced to wait until the eve of Sunday’s game in Lille to find out if he can play.
From Ian Hawkey at Euro 2015:
Boateng has been crucial for the German defence which has yet to concede a goal in this tournament. He had renewed his World Cup-winning partnership in the central defence with Mats Hummels, with both players only recently back from injury.
They will need all the defensive prowess they can muster if they are not to replicate the mistakes that led to their 3-1 loss to the Slovaks in their friendly international on a rain-drenched pitch in May.
A new pitch has been laid in Lille after heavy rain and frequent play had damaged it irreparably. Germany, who won the tournament in 1972, 1980 and 1996, are prepared for the game, keeper Manuel Neuer said.
“We have to keep a clean sheet,” Neuer said on Friday. “We know that we can concede goals as well. But so far we have defended well and in knockout games we want to keep a clean sheet.”
Slovakia’s Marek Hamsik and Vladimir Weiss will have their work cut out against the solid German backline, with full backs Jonas Hector and Joshua Kimmich in fine form.
Hungary v Belgium, 11pm
TOULOUSE // The Euro 2016 draw has opened up for Belgium, but Marc Wilmots’s side are still to confirm their title credentials before their last-16 match against undefeated Hungary on Sunday.
Belgium finished second in Group E after an opening defeat by Italy, but Wilmots refuses to see it as a blessing in disguise, even if the draw means they will avoid Spain, Germany, France, England and the Italians until the final.
Concerned about the pressure on his team, the manager hinted that he would rather face one of the heavyweights.
“These are games in which you have nothing to lose,” he said. “Matches like we played against Brazil in the 2002 World Cup are nicer.
“In this Euro there are no easy games, no small teams,” he added. “They criticised us for losing to Wales [during qualification] and look where they are now.”
Belgium’s prospects have improved with the draw, but Wilmots is yet to prove he can make the most of his talented squad.
They were outworked and outthought against Italy, but romped to victory against Ireland in perhaps the best performance yet by this collection of talented players.
Despite Wilmots’s bullish response to critics after this match, hopes Belgium had turned the corner were deflated when they again lacked fluency against Sweden.
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport
Updated: June 25, 2016 04:00 AM