Paris (AFP) – Don’t call it revenge, but a Thierry Henry handball in 2009 means there will be more than a Euro 2016 quarter-final place at stake when France take on the Republic of Ireland on Sunday.
Germany also have a point to prove when they face little Slovakia in their last 16 game. Hungary take on Belgium for the right to play Gareth Bale’s Wales in the last eight.
Rival coaches Didier Deschamps and Martin O’Neill and their players have strongly denied there is any lingering rancour over Henry’s handball in a playoff that meant France got a 2010 World Cup spot ahead of Ireland.
“It belongs to history,” said Deschamps of the dispute that has been revived ahead of Sunday’s game in Lyon (1300 GMT).
“We have decided to forget about it,” according to O’Neill.
O’Neill is angry though because Irish fans got an allocation of just 4,500 tickets for the match in the 59,000 Stade de Lyon which is likely to be all Bleu for the hosts.
“It’s totally disproportionate for a stadium of this size,” O’Neill complained. “For us, or any team that was going to be playing in the round of 16 here, to be allocated less that 5,000 tickets is, I think, pretty unfair, honestly.”
– Clean sheets –
World Cup holders Germany have not conceded a goal since their surprise 3-1 defeat to Slovakia in a Euro warmup match and go into their rematch in Lille (1600 GMT) seeking satisfaction.
Coach Joachim Loew also wants to see better after a meagre 1-0 win over Northern Ireland and a goalless draw with Poland.
“I was not satisfied against Northern Ireland, that is very clear, and neither were the players. We cannot miss so many chances again because we simply won’t have that many anymore,” Loew said.
The German coach said he had been “very surprised” by Slovakia’s performance in their friendly and watching them in the Euro group stage where they held England to a goalless draw.
“I think we will find ways to cope with that better than England,” Loew said in a comment bound to rankle the England camp.
Should Germany progress, Italy or title holders Spain are lying in wait.
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots is also looking for improvement from his world number two ranked side when they take on surprise package Hungary in Toulouse (1900 GMT).
A 1-0 win over Sweden, 3-0 win over Republic of Ireland and a 2-0 defeat by Italy has not convinced the fans of a team containing stars Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.
“I expect better performances from everyone, even though they’ve come through the tournament pretty well so far,” Wilmots said.
“We’ve got more pressure because we have big expectations back home. The players know if they lose, we’ll lose everything,” he added.
Hungary won Group F against the odds and have brought thousands out on the streets of Budapest with their performances at Euro 2016.
Zoltan Gera scored one of the goals of the tournament with his long-range strike in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Portugal. “If we lose (Sunday), the goal won’t mean anything,” he said.
“It’s not by chance that we’re playing well at this Euro. You only have to look at how many people are following us in Hungary and how are matches are celebrated.”
The winner of the game will play Wales in Lille on Friday.
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