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Nov 13, 2009

Dunne warns France for Croke Park 'fight'

Outspoken Richard Dunne reckons Republic of Ireland have little going for them other than fighting spirit and Croke Park's intimidating atmosphere, but warned France that will be enough if they underestimate their World Cup play-off opponents.

• Dunne sledges Domenech

In what's shaping up to the be the most firey and fascinating Wolrd Cup play-off as the remaining places at South Africa 2010 are booked, Raymond Domenech's France head for Dublin for Saturday's play-off first leg at Croke Park ahead of the return leg in Paris next Wednesday.

Star-studded France may be overwhelming favourites in the eyes of most onlookers, but that is not a view which is being countenanced by Republic manager Giovanni Trapattoni or his players. Fresh from criticising Domenech as a coach capable of "messing up" France's talented line-up, defender Dunne has moved to strike fear into the opposition, warning them to be ready for the battle of Croke Park.

"There's no doubt France will be the favourites in everyone else's but our eyes," Dunne said. "If they underestimate us, if they come to Croke Park and think they are going to be allowed to just pass the ball around the pitch and walk their way to South Africa ... if all they know about us is that fighting spirit, well then we will have to come out fighting.''

The match could easily be classed as the cliche of a clash of cultures; the elegant individualism of Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Karim Benzema and the undying commitment, passion and organisation of Trapattoni's side, a concept Dunne was happy to pick up and run with.

Asked to counter the French perception of the Irish armoury boasting little more than fighting spirit and Croke Park at full volume, Dunne said with a smile: "That's about it.

"We have got the belief. Obviously France have all the flair and all the skill and everything. But we believe there's nobody in the world who can match us for work-rate and effort and fighting spirit and Croke Park.

"That's us, that's the way we are. We have the likes of Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, but if you look at the squad as a whole, we are a tough team to beat and that's basically down to the team spirit and the attitude of the players when we go onto the pitch.''

However, the current Ireland team is more than just national pride and hard work, and that is the legacy of Trapattoni's 18 months at the helm. The 70-year-old Italian has made them difficult to beat - they did not lose any of their 10 qualifiers - but his influence extends further.

Dunne said: "He is great. Every game we come over for, he tells us what's going to happen, how we are going to win the game and what we have to do. So far, he has been right on every occasion. We have not had any setbacks in the group stage.

"He was saying the other day 'Just listen to me, believe, make sure you understand that we are going to qualify', so just in our own heads from now on is 'We are going to qualify and that's it'. If anyone tries to stop us or tell us no, we just have to go out and prove it.''

At 30, Dunne knows his chances of going to a World Cup are receding, but he believes the strides which have been taken under the new manager deserve to be rewarded.

Asked if this could be his last chance, he said: "Yes, I would say so probably. But even if it's not, it's the chance to play in a World Cup. It's huge and I am really, really desperate to get there, and there are a few others who are probably in the same situation as me. I just think the way the whole campaign has gone, it would be a shame if we don't qualify.

"We have had our critics along the way for our style of play, but we have been strong and determined and believed in ourselves, and if we can just keep doing that, we will have fully deserved to qualify.''

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