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France must start stronger to finish better at Euro 2016

Football Soccer - France v Republic of Ireland - EURO 2016 - Round of 16 - Stade de Lyon - Lyon, France - 26/6/16 France's Antoine Griezmann scores a goal. REUTERS/Max Rossi
Football Soccer - France v Republic of Ireland - EURO 2016 - Round of 16 - Stade de Lyon - Lyon, France - 26/6/16 France's Antoine Griezmann scores a goal. REUTERS/Max Rossi

By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - France started a match poorly once again at Euro 2016 and once again they got away with it, beating Ireland 2-1 to reach the quarter-finals on Sunday.

But the players know that from now on they must be faster out of the blocks and cannot rely on luck and a late charge.

Les Bleus got off to an excruciating start against the Irish when Paul Pogba fouled Shane Long in the second minute and Robbie Brady converted the resulting penalty.

A tactical switch at halftime, shifting Antoine Griezmann closer to Olivier Giroud up front, gave the hosts more impact, with substitute Kingsley Coman adding speed.

"We told ourselves we had to move our asses, that we were the France team and a defeat would make us a laughing stock," said Griezmann, who scored France's goals in the 58th and 61st minutes.

"Our opening minutes are very bad, we must improve in that department because we're not going to get away with it every time."

Dimitri Payet was never worried, although he conceded France could have made the effort earlier.

"I knew we had time to come back but it's only in the second half that we put the ingredients together," he said.

It took Les Bleus 13 minutes in the second half to equalise, Griezmann heading home form Bacary Sagna's cross after heated exchanges among the players in the dressing room at halftime.

"We were frustrated and angry," said Patrice Evra.

"But we did not just shout at halftime and then do nothing. We took our responsibilities in the second half."

Earlier in the tournament France beat Romania 2-1 after playing a poor first half and needed Payet's 89th minute goal to win.

Then they beat Albania 2-0 with Griezmann scoring in the 90th and Payet in the sixth minute of time added on.

Instead of worrying about what might happen if they fell behind again, captain Hugo Lloris preferred to underline the squad's psychological strength.

"I have felt strength (in the squad) and it has not happened just today," Lloris said.

France take on either England or Iceland, who meet later on Monday, in the quarter-finals.

If it is the latter, Didier Deschamps's team will have to brace themselves for a tough game against a defensive side -- something Les Bleus have never been comfortable with.

"It makes the games complicated. The teams are sitting deep," said Griezmann.

"But eventually they are tired and they crack because they're out of juice. We are equipped to go all the way."

France will be without holding midfielder N'Golo Kante and centre back Adil Rami, both suspended for the Stade de France game on Sunday.

Kante will probably be replaced by Yohan Cabaye while Samuel Umtiti is likely to take Rami's place.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Clare Lovell)

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