Northern Ireland under-21 0-3 France under-21: Visitors seal convincing win, not enough for qualification

Northern Ireland under-21 0-3 France under-21: Visitors seal convincing win, not enough for qualification

The French fell just short of the final play-off spot.

Jonathan Walsh

Despite Iceland being beaten, France's 3-0 win over Northern Ireland was not enough to earn a spot in the play-off round of UEFA European under-21 Championship qualifying.

Team news

Northern Ireland made two changes from the side that drew away in Ukraine, as Conor McDermott and Ryan McLaughlin came into the starting side for Jordan Thompson and Michael Duffy. As for France, it was the same team that had beaten Georgia 5-1 in a friendly last week.

Dominance from the start

It was a cagey and tense affair in the opening 10 minutes with France holding possession almost exclusively. When the opportunity presented itself both sides tried to fashion an early ball over the top, although neither could quite find the man running in behind the opposition defence.

Paul Smyth was the key attacking outlet for the hosts and was being closely marked by both Issa Diop and Clement Lenglet; the latter and Smyth were brought together by referee Joao Pinheiro, as the clashes between the two were becoming ever more apparent.

Unfortunately for Northern Ireland, the pressure eventually told as France got off to the start they needed. A superb ball over the top from Thomas Lemar found the run of Augustin. The promising PSG forward controlled well with his head before swivelling and volleying past a helpless Conor Mitchell in the 16th minute.

France continued to press and probe but were, at times, slack in possession and Smyth almost took full advantage of one such chance midway through the half. Mark Sykes won the ball back and quickly fed Smyth, who turned Diop before driving on to goal. The Linfield attacker’s effort was well-held by Mike Maignan from the edge of the area.

The remainder of the half was largely dominated by French possession that didn’t really go anywhere. They were, however, forced into bringing off Lenglet for Lucas Hernandez. Just as it looked like France would be going in just a goal up, Augustin turned something into nothing and another Lemar pass was rifled into the roof of the net by the in-form forward with three minutes left in the first half.

France in control after the break

At half-time, Duffy was brought on for Connor Quigley in a bid from Jim Magilton to get things going in an attacking sense. Despite their best efforts to press early on it was Mitchell who was called upon twice to make fine diving saves to his left to halt both Lemar and Corentin Tolisso from range.

The French dominance continued when Dembélé, who had been quiet in the first half, stole a march on the Northern Irish defence but his finish slipped just wide of the top corner. Tolisso was also able to spray the ball about with the increased freedom, yet the third goal just would not come for the dominant visitors.

Tolisso, who had been nothing short of superb, was then afforded the chance to shoot himself but saw his curling, angled 25-yard effort cannon back out off of the upright. Dembélé, through on goal once more, looked to have extended the lead further but saw his lobbed effort over the onrushing Mitchell cleared by Liam Donnelly.

With the clock beginning to win down and the result in their favour, France took their foot off the pedal and were happy to play keep ball. That let a renewed and feisty Northern Ireland side press high and hard but they struggled to get the ball back even when hunting the opposition down in packs.

There would be one more goal that unsurprisingly went the way of the French, as Dembélé got a deserved goal of his own. The Celtic forward collected a clever Adrien Rabiot pass into the channel, before striing through on Mitchell and curling a superb finish in at the far corner. Unfortunately for the French, it was not enough to secure a play-off spot.