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Oct 19, 2009

Ireland face France in play-offs

The Republic of Ireland will play 1998 champions France in the play-offs for the World Cup finals. The French will have the advantage of playing the second leg on home soil.

• Harris: Don't write off the Irish
• World Cup finals draw LIVE on December 4

Portugal, meanwhile, will face Bosnia-Herzegovina and it is Greece-Ukraine and Russia-Slovenia.

France and Ireland were in the same qualifying group for the 2006 World Cup. There was just one goal in the two games between the sides as Thierry Henry scored a 68th-minute winner at Lansdowne Road in Dublin.

Portugal may be relieved to be drawn against a nation with no experience of previously qualifying for a finals, especially as neighbours Spain found it easy to play against them in scoring five goals last week.

Russia, who came close to being drawn against neighbours Ukraine, will face Slovenia who reached the finals in 2002. Slovenia conceded just four goals in qualifying, only bettered by Netherlands, which will make them a tough opponent.

And Greece, European Champions in 2004, will play Andriy Shevchenko's Ukraine for a place on the plane to South Africa.

Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given has once again condemned FIFA's decision to seed the play-offs. He said: "The seeding thing is totally unfair. As one of the smaller countries, it is hard enough to qualify at the best of times.

"To change the rules a couple of weeks before the end of the campaign is ridiculous. But that is what they have done. I do think it is very unfair. But we went to Bari and got a result. We also went to Bulgaria. There is great belief that we can go to these big nations and get results.

"We should have beaten Italy last week. They scored with the last kick of the game. We have to learn from that. We have enough experience to see the game out but we didn't do it. We do get great belief and confidence from matches like that.

"The seeding thing has spurred us a bit more. You think the whole world is against you. If they had made the rules from day one, you would have got your head round it. Just to change it a couple of weeks ago was farcical, as far as the smaller countries are concerned.

"But that is what they have done and we have to get on with it. We want to be in South Africa. Every player wants to play in the World Cup finals against the best players in the world. It is a special World Cup when the Irish supporters are there. Hopefully we can get there.''

French Football Federation (FFF) technical director Gerard Houllier told France Info radio: "We wanted to avoid Ukraine. Ireland are competitive and tricky to play but we must not overrate them.

"It's a slight advantage to play the return leg at home but the first leg is often the most important one because it either gives you confidence or ruins your hopes."

Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney said he expected a tight tussle.

"I've spoken to the manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, he's quite relaxed about it," Delaney told Irish radio. "We don't lose games on many goals, we don't win games on many goals. I wouldn't expect that pattern to change."

Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek admitted his side will be the underdogs: "Russia are clear favourites in our two matches and I am worried about the conditions we will have in Russia. But mainly I hope my players will be well prepared in the middle of November because this time the matches are decisive."

Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz said Bosnia would be tough opponents for his side.

"Reputation has no weight or significance in these circumstances," Queiroz told RTP TV channel. "We have to prepare well to play against an excellent side that has a very dangerous attack."

Queiroz's Bosnian counterpart Miroslav Blazevic conceded Portugal would be favourites but did not rule out an upset.

"To be honest, I think the Portuguese are favourites. But it is not always the favourites that win," he said.

Ties to be played on November 14 and 18
Republic of Ireland v France
Portugal v Bosnia-Herzegovina
Greece v Ukraine
Russia v Slovenia

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