Six Nations 2021: Ibanez hails France belief after last-gasp win over Wales

By Sports Desk March 20, 2021

Raphael Ibanez paid tribute to France's unbreakable belief after they kept their hopes of Six Nations glory alive with a last-gasp win over Wales.

French hopes of a comeback victory appeared to have been dashed when they had lock Paul Willemse sent off and a try chalked off in one fell swoop by the TMO with 67 minutes gone.

That left Fabien Galthie's side a man down and 10 points behind a Wales side who looked destined to complete a Grand Slam in Paris.

However, the visitors lost both Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams to the sin bin in quick succession before Charles Ollivon crossed the line and Romain Ntamack converted to reduce the deficit to three.

And Brice Dulin broke Welsh hearts in the 82nd minute as he made the hosts' extra man tell, touching down after the ball had been worked quickly to the left.

Reflecting on the drama, team manager Ibanez told the BBC: "It was an incredible finish. Mixed emotions. It was a fantastic battle for the whole game and obviously, we got the win but it's just incredible for the boys, a massive effort.

"At times during the game, we were under massive pressure. Wales scored their opportunities, we missed a few opportunities, made a few mistakes during the game.

"But in the end what really matters in sport is just to believe and that's what the boys did until the end thanks to magnificent tries."

Asked if he thought France's hopes of winning had gone when Willemse was dismissed, Ibanez heaped further praise on the players' character.

He added: "Yeah, but you still have to believe in yourself when you start the game of rugby. 

"The intensity, the battle was just immense. Credit to Wales, they fought until the end, but the boys showed so much character. 

"I think, in the end, it's going to give a lot of confidence to the boys for the next game."

That next game pits France against Scotland at Stade de France on Friday, with the hosts knowing that a bonus-point win by a margin of 21 points would see them crowned champions.

On refocusing for that challenge, Ibanez said: "It's pretty simple. We're still in it and the next game will define our Six Nations. 

"We still have a chance to win the Six Nations so let's celebrate tonight in the changing room and then tomorrow we are going to regroup and work hard as we did this week."

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  • Italy v Wales: Azzurri out to equal all-time unbeaten run and finish top of Group A Italy v Wales: Azzurri out to equal all-time unbeaten run and finish top of Group A

    Italy will aim to equal their all-time unbeaten record of 30 matches and finish top of Euro 2020 Group A when they face Wales at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.

    The Azzurri have won their opening two matches by the same 3-0 scoreline against Turkey and Switzerland, making it 10 wins in a row in all competitions without conceding.

    Roberto Mancini's side are already assured of a place in the last 16, but they require a point against second-placed Wales to make certain of top spot.

    However, victory will be the target for Italy on home soil as they look to match their previous record for games without defeat, set between November 1935 and July 1939.

    Mancini has indicated he will rotate his side with the knockout stages in mind, but experienced defender Giorgio Chiellini has warned Italy cannot take Wales lightly.

     

    "They are a great team," said Chiellini, who is not expected to play any part in the match. "Wales have been playing together for many years and we know them well. 

    "There have been many small changes but never revolutions, so they are tough opponents."

    Wales are practically through to the last 16 after drawing with Switzerland and beating Turkey in their two games, but need a point in the Italian capital to seal the deal.

    The Euro 2016 semi-finalists do not have the best of records against Italy, though, losing seven of their previous nine meetings and failing to score in three attempts on Italian soul.

    But winger Daniel James is relishing the chance to end Italy's long-running unbeaten run, which spans back to September 2018.

    "Italy are a great team, but we have to go in believing we can win. We will do our analysis, and we will go there with our heads held high," he said.

    "They've had a great run going into this tournament, but we want to win every game and we fully believe that we can do that."


    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Italy – Marco Verratti

    Verratti was not even named in Italy's squad for their opening two games as he continues to recover from an injury sustained with Paris Saint-Germain, but Mancini has hinted he will play a part on Sunday.

    Manuel Locatelli has starred in Verratti's absence, becoming the third youngest Italy player to score a brace at a major tournament with his double against Switzerland.

    But PSG midfielder Verratti has been one of the key men in Italy's remarkable turnaround after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and Mancini will be eager to get him back to full fitness.

    Wales – Gareth Bale

    Gareth Bale skied a penalty in Wales' 2-0 win against Turkey, becoming the first player to miss the goal frame entirely with a spot-kick at the Euros since Raul for Spain against France in 2000.

    The Real Madrid forward more than made amends for that, however, by assisting goals for Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts in a well-earned win for the Dragons.

    He created five big chances across the 90 minutes in Baku – the most by a player at the Euros since such records were recorded in 1980.

    KEY OPTA FACTS

    - Italy and Wales' latest encounter was 18 years ago, in a European Championship qualifier back in September 2003. On that day, Filippo Inzaghi scored his one and only hat-trick with the Italian national team (4-0).

    - Wales have made it out of the group stages in their previous two appearances at a major tournament (1958 World Cup, Euro 2016). If they avoid defeat in this game, they are guaranteed a spot in the knockout stages.

    - Italy are looking to win all three of their group-stage matches for the fourth time at a major tournament, previously doing so at the 1978 and 1990 World Cups, and at Euro 2000.

    - The Azzurri have gone 965 minutes without conceding, scoring 31 goals without reply in that run.

    - If he keeps a clean sheet, Italy keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma would be the youngest keeper to earn shutouts in three consecutive games at the Euros (22y 115d on the day of the game).

  • Hungary v France: Deschamps wary of 'dangerous' hosts Hungary v France: Deschamps wary of 'dangerous' hosts

    Didier Deschamps anticipates Hungary presenting world champions France with a dangerous test as Les Bleus look to seal their place in the last 16 of Euro 2020.

    France were not at their best in an entertaining 1-0 win over Germany, but the fact only the offside flag prevented their victory from being more emphatic in a game where they clearly had several other gears sent an ominous message to the other contenders for the title.

    But they have work to do to win Group F, from which they will progress should they beat Hungary, with Portugal having shown their mettle with a late show against the same opposition in Budapest to prevail 3-0.

    Yet Deschamps was impressed by what he saw from the minnows of the group prior to Raphael Guerreiro's 84th-minute opener, which preceded a Cristiano Ronaldo brace, and is expecting his side to receive a stern examination in front of a crowd of 65,000.

    "Obviously the support of fans for a home side is very important, this helped them [Hungary] against Portugal because let's not forget up to 80th minute it was 0-0," he told a media conference. 

    "They actually were the first to hit the back of the net but unfortunately the goal was disallowed.

    "They're a highly efficient team, well structured, they have an Italian coach and I think this has a lot to do with it. Hungary will be playing at home, therefore I'm expecting them to be just as dangerous as they were against Portugal."

    Marco Rossi is the man tasked with guiding Hungary to what would be one of the biggest upsets in European Championship history, having accepted blame for the margin of defeat against Portugal.

    "We came apart at the seams," said Rossi. "That was my fault. I made too many changes that didn't work.

    "We were trailing and we needed to do something. I did that and clearly I got it wrong. Occasionally you can hold your hands up and saw you made a mistake."

    France will have full-backs Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard available in Budapest. Hernandez had what Deschamps described as "a niggle" while Pavard suffered a head injury in the win over Germany.

    Antoine Griezmann is in line to feature in a record 50th consecutive game for France and facing the Barcelona star, Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema, Hungary can ill-afford to have their structure come apart once more.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Hungary - Gergo Lovrencsics

    Lovrencsics will look to test Hernandez's fitness if he retains his place on the right flank after providing a threat from that side against Portugal.

    He produced two good open play crosses against Portugal and was one of just three Hungary players to create a chance in that defeat.

    Should the play become stretched, Lovrencsics may be the player to whom Hungary turn to take advantage.

    France - Adrien Rabiot

    While it is tough to take your eyes off Mbappe and Co. up front, Rabiot's display against Germany was worthy of greater attention.

    The midfielder had the highest passing accuracy of any player on the France team (93 per cent) and was tied with Pavard (89.5%) for the best passing accuracy in the opposition half.

    He also did his fair share of work in defence. Rabiot made three interceptions, tied with Paul Pogba for the most among France players, while only the Manchester United star (12) won possession more times than the Juventus man (9).

    In what may develop into a high-octane match in front of a vociferous crowd, Rabiot's composure and strengths as a box-to-box midfielder could be pivotal for France.

     

    KEY OPTA FACTS

    - France have won each of their last five matches against Hungary (12 goals, 3 against), a run that started with their 3-1 group stage victory at the 1978 World Cup. They had only won three of their previous 17 games against Hungary (D2 L12).

    - Les Bleus have beaten Hungary only once in their eight games played on Hungarian soil (D1 L6), that was in March 1990 at Budapest's Nepstadion (3-1, including a brace from Eric Cantona).

    - France have won their last five matches in all competitions, doing so without conceding a single goal. They haven't won six games in a row since June 2016, when the final two games in the run were their opening two matches of Euro 2016.

    - Going into MD2, Hungary have conceded more goals at the last two European Championships combined than anyone else, letting in 11 goals in five matches, including seven in their last two games alone (0-4 vs Belgium at Euro 2016, 0-3 vs Portugal at Euro 2020).

    - Only Finland (1) and Turkey (3) had fewer shots on MD1 of EURO 2020 than France (4), while only opponents Hungary (0.18) and Russia (0.26) have posted a lower Expected Goal (xG) total than the French (0.28).

    - During 2021, only Italy (6) have kept more clean sheets among European nations than France (5), who have kept a clean sheet in their last five matches in all competitions. They last kept six in a row between March and September 2007 under Raymond Domenech.

    - Benzema – who is 10th on the list of all-time top scorers for the French national team with 27 goals – has never scored a goal at the Euros in seven previous appearances. Since 1980, his 28 efforts at goal without scoring in the competition are the third-most of any player, behind Spain's Andres Iniesta (34) and the Netherlands' Clarence Seedorf (33).

  • Chiesa salutes Mancini and vows Italy are 'here to go all the way' Chiesa salutes Mancini and vows Italy are 'here to go all the way'

    Federico Chiesa has told Italy supporters they should dare to dream of Euro 2020 glory – because Roberto Mancini has got the Azzurri thinking the same way.

    On Sunday, Italy will attempt to make it 30 games without defeat when they tackle Wales in Rome.

    Doing so would mean Italy equal their all-time longest unbeaten run, previously achieved between November 1935 and July 1939.

    Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup but have been revitalised under head coach Mancini, and 3-0 wins over Turkey and Switzerland mean their place in the last-16 of this European Championship is already assured.

    "The fans are right to dream and we are right with them," Chiesa said in a news conference. "We are here to try to go all the way and to fulfil this great dream."

    Winger Chiesa, the son of former Italy striker Enrico Chiesa, has made two substitute appearances so far, playing 30 minutes.

    With Mancini expected to rest some key players, Chiesa could get his chance from the start against Wales.

    "The coach asks us to be ready. When he calls me I will be ready, we are all starters and we must be ready to play," Chiesa said.

    "I know inside of me how to live through this moment, there is a fantastic energy, electricity, the atmosphere is great and it's thanks to the coach."

    Italy are looking to win all three of their group stage matches for the fourth time at a major finals, previously doing so at the 1978 and 1990 World Cups, and at Euro 2000.

    Their confidence stems not only from the ongoing 29-game unbeaten streak, but the way they have stepped up their level lately.

    They have won their last 10 games, keeping a clean sheet every time. In all, they have gone 965 minutes without conceding, scoring 31 goals without reply over this run.

    Chiesa has earmarked Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey as the main threats within the Wales ranks.

    Real Madrid winger Bale is "above all" the player that Italy should be watching out for, Chiesa indicated.

    In Wales' 2-0 win over Turkey on Wednesday, Bale became the first player to create five big chances in a match at the European Championship since 1980, the earliest date for which Opta has such data available.

    Opta defines a big chance as 'a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score', and two of those five opportunities against Turkey were converted, with Ramsey and Connor Roberts the beneficiaries of Bale's brilliance.

    Ramsey is a team-mate of Chiesa at Juventus, and the Italy wide man said: "He is a very intelligent and very technically strong player. He has quality, unfortunately this season he was hit by injuries. We are also friends off the pitch."

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