Republic of Ireland v France, World Cup qualifying play-off, November 14, 2009
â€œI believe France have more individual quality. The question mark is how much can the enthusiasm, the collective drive of Ireland, and the efficiency on the day, counteract maybe the technical superiority of the French team. In the last three games, there has a resurgence of quality in the French national team. They are better than six months ago and they are on their way up. It will be a very interesting game because I am keen to see the mixture of Irish passion, drive going forward, with the shrewd calculating temper of Trapattoni, against the French national team, which is still very young but with a lot of quality.â€ â€“ Arsene Wenger.
“Every time a tournament comes round [France] have all these world-class players and then a man who seems intent on messing up.â€ â€“ Richard Dunne on France coach Raymond Domenech.
There has been no shortage of pre-game chatter ahead of this World Cup qualifying play-off which of all four ties looks both the most intriguing and the hardest to call. The atmosphere at Croke Park on Saturday will be electric as the boys in green look to secure a World Cup spot in South Africa and stun Les Bleus. (Ireland are 5/21 to qualify; France are 2/7 to qualify.)
The home side will be eager to make the 12th man count as they may need a decent advantage if they are to survive the second leg in France. Prior to the draw, a number of Irish players questioned the seeding system and although they have undoubtedly been handed tough opposition, the current state of both teams leaves the Irish with a real chance.
France are simply not the force of old. Forget the World Cup winning side of 1998 and the finalists of 2006, the current Les Bleus do not perform as they should with the vast amount of quality in their ranks. Perhaps it is Raymond Domenechâ€™s fault, or the players are simply not up to the standard of previous sides, but there are serious weaknesses in this French team.
Giovanni Trappatoni will no doubt be well aware of Franceâ€™s struggles at set-pieces. Ireland only scored once from open play in their matches with Italy and Bulgaria in the group stages whilst Domenechâ€™s side look weak in these situations. A case in point was their 3-1 defeat to Austria in the group stages when they conceded two early goals from set pieces.
Domenech will also be without arguably Franceâ€™s best player in Franck Ribery. Thierry Henry (13/5 to score & France win) and Karim Benzema (15/2 to score first & France win) are the main threats for Shay Given and co but the two Spanish based strikers Spanish based strikers are not in the finest of form. Much will also depend on whether the French midfield can create chances and Yoann Gourcuff (11/4 to score) will be the man to watch following his impressive year at Bordeaux.
For Ireland, goals are a must and they will have to capitalise on their performances in the group stages when they did not lose a game and drew twice with Italy. Robbie Keane (15/4 to score & Ireland win) has been pinpointed by the French as the main danger man and Kevin Doyle (8/1 to score first) will also be looking to take advantage of any lapses at the back.
Ireland can also point to previous victories in World Cup qualifying matches against the French, in October 1981 and November 1972. There seems to be a general unease within French football towards both their national team and their manager, if Ireland get on top on Saturday they must make their dominance count, as a slim victory may not be enough over 180 minutes.
101gg predicts: Republic of Ireland 2 â€“ France 0 (12/1)
Full match odds here.