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Qualification covers cracks as Irish dare to dream

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By Phil O’Connor

Those who arrived late to the Republic of Ireland’s party in Dublin could be forgiven for wondering what was going on as 10 years of hurt were banished and Euro 2012 qualification was assured.

Ten years to the day after they last secured qualification for a major tournament (beating Iran in a playoff to make the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea), the Irish rounded off a resounding 5-1 aggregate victory over Estonia to book their place at Euro 2012.

As with any celebration, it would have been rude to point out that the hosts had not exactly shone during qualifying as they struggled against sides from both ends of the table.

Dismantled at home by a technically superior Russia, they struggled before finally overcoming the group’s supposed weaker sides, Macedonia and Andorra.

Soccer Break Tuesday

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SOCCER-FRIENDLY/Spring is here and love should be in the air, but instead all we’re left with is bickering managers.

Fabio Capello and Jose Mourinho are no strangers to controversy, so it’s no surprise to see them at it again, though the timing is odd. Mourinho still has it all to prove at Real Madrid over the next two months, while Capello has yet to truly inspire confidence in England fans.

UPDATE: Ireland plead for World Cup slot as the 33rd team

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Sepp Blatter revealed this morning that Ireland have appealed to FIFA to be allowed to compete as a 33rd team in next year’s World Cup.

“I will bring it to the attention of the Executive Committee,” Blatter told (stunned) journos. “I cannot confirm what will happen, but I will report it.”

UPDATE: No replay hopes here … the score predictions are back

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Monday morning update 2: Mike Collett claims, with some justification it must be said, to have altered his predictions on Friday afternoon. I do indeed have an email from Mike asking me to change them, so I guess we’ll have to give him credit for getting Liverpool v Man City, the double pointer, bang on at 2-2. OK, Mike … but next time, one shot please.

I also decided to give Mitch a one-point bonus for his 5-0 prediction in the Spurs game (closer than anyone else), making him one of the week’s big winners with 18 points. Martyn Herman would have got 20, including a two-point bonus for being the only person to predict an Arsenal defeat, but I docked him two for trying to sneak in a 2-2 prediction on the Anfield game … after the final whistle.

10 good reasons to love Raymond Domenech

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Overseeing qualification for the World Cup via a blatant handball is unlikely to do much for the popularity of French coach Raymond Domenech, either at home or abroad (his Wikipedia page is currently saying some very nasty things about him, but it will doubtless be put back to its less offensive version soon).

The 57-year-old former defender, whose name is booed at every match, has never made any effort to make himself popular, but here are 10 reasons (or nearly 10) why football fans may want to reconsider their view:

Hand of Henry goal makes strong case for video evidence

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France’s decisive goal against Ireland in their World Cup play-off will only add further weight to the case for using a video ref, or extra goal-line officials, at least in the biggest matches.

The controversial extra-time strike from William Gallas took France through to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, while leaving the Irish barely able to contain a sense of frustration and injustice.

France break Irish hearts to seal World Cup slot

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France ensured the likes of Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and Thierry Henry will be at the World Cup in South Africa next year after winning through with a goal that has left Irish fans seething.

There was nothing wrong with the finish from William Gallas, but Thierry Henry admitted using his hand to keep the ball in play and commentators and Irish supporters are already talking of “The Hand of God II” and “The Hand of Henry” in reference to Diego Maradona in 1986.

Lesser lights may yet shine at this World Cup

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Depending on the results of the second legs of the UEFA World Cup playoffs on Wednesday, next year’s tournament in South Africa could contain rather too many of football’s lesser lights for some fans out there.

Portugal, France and Russia, could all perish and the tournament, which is supposed to be the pinnacle of the game, could have a cast list including Honduras, New Zealand, North Korea, Slovakia, Bosnia and Slovenia.

Irish have reason for optimism despite first leg defeat

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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.

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