- 2010 FIFA World Cup - France - Ireland
Les Bleus brace for assault on Irish homeground
France take on Ireland and tens of thousands of Irish fans at Dublin’s Croke Park in the first leg of Saturday’s high stakes 2010 World Cup qualifier.
AFP - The odds look stacked against the Republic of Ireland when they take on France in the first leg of their World Cup play-off here at Croke Park on Saturday.
Having won only once in six play-offs, and taking on the cream of European football talent, the Irish look to have a mountain to climb if they are to qualify for South Africa next year.
However, under veteran Italian manager Giovanni Trapattoni the team has developed into a solid well-organised outfit capable of frustrating any opposition.
In the build up this week to the double header, players and management have stayed on message, saying they must work to the strengths that got them out of Group Eight unbeaten.
"We are a tough team to be beat and that's down to our team spirit and attitude," said Republic centre-half Richard Dunne. "There's no doubt France will be favourites and if they underestimate us - well fine.
"France have all the flair and they've got players throughout the team that can skip past players. So if someone gets beaten, someone else has to cover.
"If we all have to come off the pitch crawling because we're that tired, that's got to be way."
But Trapattoni, mindful of his team's concession of an injury-time equaliser against world champions Italy last month, stressed his team would need to add a deep level of concentration to the mix.
"We need to play with the same attitude, the same mentality but we also need to have something more than we have done until now," Trapattoni explained.
"Sure, we are conscious this is not an easy game but it's important to not to make little silly mistakes. If possible, we should not concede a goal at home because it's a great advantage for your opponent to have a goal in this (two-legged) play-off."
However, Trapattoni's selection headache in wide areas suggests the Irish want France to focus on their opponents' hard work and method, rather than the guile at their disposal.
The Italian must choose two from Aiden McGeady, Damien Duff, Stephen Hunt and Liam Lawrence, who impressed in his first competitive start against the Italians.
Up front, Robbie Keane is Ireland's all-time leading scorer and alongside him Kevin Doyle matches graft with craft and has netted seven times at international level.
At the back, goalkeeper Shay Given is world-class and playing behind an experienced trio in an aerially powerful defence with Kevin Kilbane, Dunne and John O'Shea having amassed well over 200 caps.
Ireland's clever communications game has gone beyond humility in the build up this week.
Assistant coach Marco Tardelli questioned the commitment to France of striker Karim Benzema and Dunne suggested Tuesday that under-fire coach Raymond Domenech could be a weak link for 'Les Bleus'.
Tardelli may have had the Aston Villa defender’s comment in mind when he told reporters he believed the Irish have an advantage on the management front.
"Giovanni is a wise man. He is an old fox," Tardelli, a World Cup winner with Italy back in 1982, said.
But it is Keane, a classic "fox in the box", who most worries France.
The wily Tottenham Hotspur forward has 40 goals in 92 internationals and will spearhead the Irish attempt to qualify for their first tournament finals since 2002.
"He's a classy forward, he's very clever, he's a fox in the box," said France right-back Bakary Sagna, who plays for Tottenham's Premier League arch-rivals Arsenal.
France see Keane's never-say-die spirit as typical of the Irish approach and Bordeaux playmaker Yoann Gourcuff warned they must be prepared for a physical battle at the intimidating Croke Park stadium.
"We're expecting a great atmosphere, worthy of British football. But Ireland showed in the group stage that they know how to play football."