LYON, France — Antoine Griezmann again rescued France from another patchy and nervous performance at the European Championship.
The diminutive forward’s two quick goals early in the second half on Sunday helped see off a spirited Ireland side 2-1, sealing a spot in the quarterfinals.
"It was great to score in front of my family, who were here to watch," said Griezmann, who grew up in Macon, about 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Lyon. "I feel a bit like I’m from this city."
Ireland had surprised the home crowd at Stade de Lyon with Robbie Brady’s penalty in the second minute, and French nerves were fraying.
After scoring a 90th-minute header against Albania, the Atletico Madrid forward equalized against Ireland with a powerful header from near the penalty spot in the 58th following a cross from right back Bacary Sagna.
Three minutes later, he collected a headed knockdown from striker Olivier Giroud, took one touch inside the area and then composed himself before slotting the ball inside the right post. It was his third goal of the tournament and his 10th for Les Bleus.
France will next face either England or Iceland in the quarterfinals on Sunday in Saint-Denis.
"We can relax on our sofas and see who we’re playing next," France coach Didier Deschamps said.
The goals were a boost for Griezmann, who missed a penalty for Atletico in the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid last month. He nearly got a third goal in injury time but Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph made the save.
After the game, France teammate Dimitri Payet went down on one knee and kissed Griezmann’s trusty left boot.
Still, Griezmann was quick to deflect the praise and credit his teammates.
"I’m not the saviour. The saviour is the team," he said. "Bacary with his cross, Olivier with his headed pass."
The Irish finished the match with 10 men following defender Shane Duffy’s red card in the 66th minute for tripping Griezmann.
After it ended, Ireland slumped to the ground in exhaustion as France celebrated.
"The fans were unbelievable and we’d have loved to have gone a bit further for them. I hope we did them proud," Ireland defender Seamus Coleman said. "We only had a little corner of the ground and they were so loud and positive at the end."
It was the first meeting between the two sides since Ireland lost a World Cup playoff to France in November 2009 following a blatant handball by forward Thierry Henry.
Relieved French fans inside the 58-000-seat stadium broke out into a rendition of "La Marseillaise" — the national anthem — after the match, but they were not quite so vocal in a tense first half.
"We were really shaky," Deschamps said. "We had to dig as deep as we could."
On Ireland’s first foray forward, France centre half Adil Rami was hesitant and then caught out of position, slipping as he failed to deal with a cross from the left headed for striker Daryl Murphy. As the loose ball caused confusion, France midfielder Paul Pogba came across striker Shane Long and knocked him over.
Brady, who scored late in Ireland’s win over Italy, stroked home the penalty off the inside of the right post for the second fastest goal in the history of the competition.
France went close to conceding another. Murphy’s curling shot was saved by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who also palmed away a dangerous whipped cross from midfielder James McLean before it could reach Long.
"We had them under severe pressure," Ireland coach Martin O’Neill said. "We were feeling we could win."
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