Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill blamed unfair Euro 2016 scheduling after his 10-man side gave France an almighty scare but ran out of steam against the hosts in Lyon.
A second-minute penalty from Robbie Brady gave Ireland a shock lead but the last-16 match turned in 10 second-half minutes as livewire forward Antoine Griezmann scored twice for France and then Republic defender Shane Duffy was sent off.
Les Bleus, who will face England or Iceland on Sunday, rarely looked in danger after that owing to their numerical superiority and fresher legs, having had three extra days’ rest that O’Neill deemed “too much”.
“It will sound like an excuse and it’s not meant to be, but it is incredible. It really is incredible,” he said.
“We knew at the start of the tournament that if we took our place in the last 16, the chances are there was going to be a big differential between us and some of the sides that we might play.
“It looked as if it was geared from France to win their group. Well done to them but three days is far too much.”
Brady, the hero of Ireland’s decisive group-stage win over Italy last week, gave them the ideal start to their first European Championship knockout tie when he converted after Shane Long had been fouled.
O’Neill’s men had the better of the first half but momentum swung violently early in the second when Griezmann equalised with a bullet header and then slotted another four minutes later.
Duffy’s red card, for a foul on the Atletico Madrid star, moments later effectively ended Irish hopes of a comeback.