Soccer-Deschamps unlikely to change France favourites for Ireland game


By Julien Pretot

PARIS, June 23 (Reuters) - A brilliant opening half in France's final group game at Euro 2016 is unlikely to persuade Didier Deschamps to reshuffle his favourite midfield for their last 16 clash against Ireland on Sunday.

France looked at their best in the first half against Switzerland, after two industrious performances, despite the game ending 0-0.

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For that game Deschamps rested forwards Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet, who both started on the bench, and he made changes in the midfield.

Paul Pogba shifted to the left with Moussa Sissoko taking Blaise Matuidi's place. Matuidi was on the bench as Yohan Cabaye deputised for N'Golo Kante in front of an unchanged defence.

In this configuration, which put Pogba on his favoured side of the pitch, Les Bleus showed great energy, with Sissoko bringing power and pace on the right flank while the lanky Juventus man appeared freed from his shackles.

Deschamps, however, is no tinkerman and he may not be willing to drop Matuidi, the midfielder he has used most since he took over from Laurent Blanc in 2012, as the competition enters the knockout phase.

Matuidi forms the backbone of Deschamps's team, alongside keeper and captain Hugo Lloris, centre back Raphael Varane, who was ruled out injured, and Giroud.

Matuidi also has the advantage of being a more useful player against largely defensive sides and Ireland are expected to sit back in Lyon.

The Paris St Germain player, however, looked flat in his first two outings against Romania and Albania, and whether he has recovered his sparkle could be the deciding factor for Deschamps.

He will keep the backline that started against Romania and Albania with Laurent Koscielny and Adil Rami in central defence and Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra on the flanks.

Koscielny and Rami, however, will have to tread carefully as they would miss a possible quarter-final if they pick up a card.

Up front, Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann will assist number nine Giroud.

Giroud quit Tuesday's training session because of a groin pain but he was back with his team mates on Wednesday.

France probable lineup against Ireland:

Hugo Lloris; Patrice Evra, Adil Rami, Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna; Blaise Matuidi, N'Golo Kante, Paul Pogba; Dimitri Payet, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Clare Lovell)

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