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Boro must capitalise at Stoke


Ireland refusing to give up World Cup dream

When the play-off draw was made for the remaining European nations in the running for a place at the 2010 World Cup, France and Republic of Ireland wanted to avoid a meeting.

• Ireland 0-1 France
• Keane: We must retain self-belief
• World Cup Gallery

Down through the years, the two teams have found themselves being locked in highly competitive encounters and it was certainly a case of history repeated on Saturday night as Les Bleus turned up at Croke Park in search of a win that would help them qualify for next summer's main event.

With Ireland acting as ungracious hosts by pushing their guests back inside their own half from the very start and France struggling to find any fluidity to their play, there wasn't much between the teams for the bulk of this tense affair.

That was until Nicolas Anelka broke the deadlock on 72 minutes when his shot took a deflection from Sean St Ledger and hit the back of the net. It was the away goal that France needed to take advantage.

In the build-up to the game, Giovanni Trapattoni suggested that it was time to 'move from words to action'. Well, he won't have been able to criticise his players for a lack of effort in that regard even when Anelka did provide the sucker-punch.

Rather than stumble around like dazed amateurs, the Irish continued to do exactly what they did throughout the whole match - close their opponents down, attack at every opportunity, and respond to the boisterous home crowd.

Having started brightly with Robbie Keane, Liam Lawrence and Keith Andrews all trying their luck, Ireland were spurred on by the majority of the 74,103 fans packed into Dublin venue.

Weaknesses were easy to spot in Raymond Domenech's side as Anelka threw his arms up in frustration more than once due to the lack of support from his team-mates, while the absence of Jeremy Toulalan in midfield was quite noticeable as nobody was able to link play for the former world champions.

Yoann Gourcuff tried his best to provide that spark, although the hard grafting from the Irish midfield of Glenn Whelan and Andrews ensured he was guarded closely.

Positives could be taken from how Ireland were playing, yet they also lacked something that would turn the game in their favour. Despite getting through their qualifying group unbeaten, it was easy to see why they failed to win more than four times.

In the second half, it was France's turn to huff and puff with Gourcuff, Lassana Diarra, and Nicolas Anelka all testing the alertness of keeper Shay Given with long-range efforts, but none really troubled the experienced shot-stopper.

Yet the threat that Domenech's team possessed on the counter attack flared up as Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra ventured forward and allowed both Anelka and Thierry Henry to roam into better positions, which is where their goal eventually came from.

There isn't too much that Ireland need to change going into Wednesday's second leg in Paris. They need just need to believe that they can win and that they can score to put them back in contention.

It is not over yet, but Ireland know the odds are now stacked even higher against them. Perhaps that is what they need in order to produce a performance that will swing the tie back in their favour.

Gareth Maher covers Irish football for ESPN Soccernet. Check out his website to read more of his writing.


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