Irish have reason for optimism despite first leg defeat
Most of the French fans who made up over half of my red-eye flight back to Brussels from Dublin on Sunday concurred that “Le Bleus” were lucky to emerge from the Croke Park cauldron around eight hours earlier with a 1-0 victory over Ireland in the first leg of their World Cup playoff.
“The result was fantastic, but the performance was not so good,” Jean, from Lille, said after the dust had settled on the win over Giovanni Trapattoni’s team, thanks to a 73rd minute deflected goal from Nicolas Anelka.
“We were lucky to score and we didn’t show any flair. The Irish will be disappointed not to have got a draw,” said Marie, sporting a red, white and blue wig.
“If we don’t play better on Wednesday, Ireland will definitely score and it will be difficult for us.”
Those views had perhaps been shared by an uncomfortable-looking France coach Ray Domenech, who failed to heap any praise on his side and threatened to walk out of the post-match news conference if he was questioned further over a reported pre-match spat with captain Thierry Henry.
French media reported the Barcelona striker was unhappy Domenech had not picked his former Arsenal team mate Patrick Vieira — now at Inter Milan — in his squad for the playoff.
Henry didn’t look to be as involved as he can be, failing to chase down a number of half chances, though the the Irish defence, marshalled brilliantly by Aston Villa’s Richard Dunne, deserves a bit of credit for that.
On the flip side for the French, Anelka showed a hunger and willingness to try to unlock a game which was cat and mouse for the most part and lacked any outstanding or memorable periods of play from either side.
Ireland for their part stuck to wily Trapattoni’s game plan by closing down France at every opportunity. It was reminiscent of the glory days when Ireland under Jack Charlton used to play by the motto “Put them under pressure”.
The home side also created their own opportunities to score and went close on a number of occasions. John O’Shea in the first half and Glenn Whelan late in the game both scuffed their chance for Irish immortality.
On the evidence of the first leg encounter, the French fans on board my flight on Sunday agreed that if Ireland can get an early goal, turn the impatient home support against their team, and show more confidence in attack, Trapattoni has a real chance of emulating Charlton in Paris and steering the Boys in Green to South Africa next June.
PHOTO: France’s Nicolas Anelka celebrates scoring during the 2010 World Cup play off qualifying soccer match against Ireland at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin November 14, 2009. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton