France (-238) vs Republic of Ireland (+850), Draw (+290)
The host nation and ultimate favorite, France (2-0-1), will try to take another step towards the 2016 Euro title this Sunday when they take on the Republic of Ireland (1-1-1) in the Round of 16 at the Stade des Lumières (9:00 AM Eastern).
A Round of 16 exit would be considered a disaster for France. The squad relied on late goals to emerge with wins in the Group Stage, but they’ll need a quicker start against Ireland. The longer the game stays scoreless, the more the underdog will start to believe it can pull the upset. But if France manage an early tally, they’ll be able to play a more passive style, limiting Ireland’s potent counter-attack.
The key for the hosts is likely to be midfielder Dimitri Payet. The youngster was outstanding in the Group Stage as France beat Romania (2-1) and Albania (2-0) while drawing Switzerland (0-0). His late strike against Romania in the tournament opener thrust him into the national spotlight, and now the hopes of the country rest on his young shoulders.
The team, as a whole, didn’t look great in any single game, but they played well enough to top Group A. Ireland, on the other hand, were a bit lucky to qualify. They drew Sweden (1-1), lost to Belgium (3-0), and then beat Italy’s B team in the last round robin game. (Italy had already clinched first place in the group.) Their best game was actually the draw against Sweden as they dominated the play, but scored an own goal late that saw the win slip away.
France and Ireland have met 16 times in the past, with the French leading the series 7-5-4. The last time they met in France was during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, a game that ended in the most controversial of fashions. France won thanks to a Thierry Henry goal that never should have counted as he clearly played the ball with his hand.
The Irish will be out to avenge that injustice on Sunday, but they don’t have the horses to get it done. Take the home team to win.
Pick: France (-238).
(Photo Credit: Football.ua [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ ], via Wikimedia Commons.)
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