Ireland determined to overcome a daunting challenge

Ireland determined to overcome a daunting challenge

Ireland will seek to turn their experience of Saturday at Croke Park into a positive at Stade de France ...
18th Nov 2009


Ireland will seek to turn their disappointment of Saturday at Croke Park into a positive at Stade de France tonight when they strive to achieve what would be a remarkable victory.

Ireland must win this second leg of their play-off tie if they are to defy logic and turn the FIFA World ranking list on its head by eliminating France from the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

No need to stress here that they face a daunting task - France are ranked 9th in the World on the FIFA list, Ireland stand on the 34th rung of the ladder.

The scale of the challenge is daunting but it is only in keeping with the size of the task that faced Ireland from the start of the qualifying campaign for the World Cup of 2010.

Ireland were unlucky to be drawn in group eight alongside Italy, the World Cup holders from 2006. When FIFA drew the teams from the lowest ranked pot and it came to Group 8 again the officials drew out the name Montenegro.

They had competed in the 2006 World Cup as Serbia and Montenegro and had only recently split into a footballing entity. They had not played sufficient games as Montenegro to merit a ranking commensurate with their ability.

Montenegro represented a much more menacing challenge than the others in the lowest ranked group such as - Moldova, Faroe Islands, Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Malta. Their results - three losses in their ten games - proved as much.

Lady Luck was not about to change her tune when the draw for the play-offs were made as Ireland were paired with France, who were runners-up in the 2006 World Cup final. They had lost the final to Italy on penalties.

A win for Ireland tonight and qualification for the finals would represent an achievement of real merit, arguably the biggest in our history.

The odds are against it, of course, but what this campaign has shown thus far is that Giovanni Trapattoni and team captain Robbie Keane lead a driven and ambitious group of players who have competed with admirable commitment in all of their matches to date.

The players have bought into Trapattoni's approach and his concept of the game and as the team evolved, they have processed his game plan with improved and improving efficiency.

The first 30 minutes of football they produced against Italy in October was their best of the tournament, the most balanced, the most constructive, the most effective. That form was matched and extended by their opening 45 minutes' performance against France on Saturday.

The goal they conceded at Croke Park to France was simply down to bad luck. And had Ireland taken just one of several scoring chances they created, the picture now presenting itself might have been very different.

Ireland will take encouragement from that and will seek to make better use of whatever chances they create on this occasion. It is encouraging to reflect on the stated ambitions of the players in the build-up to what will undoubtedly be another fascinating game.

"The good thing about football is that after a disappointment there is another game" said Trapattoni on the eve of the match, "I watched the game from Saturday again and it should have been a draw. We lose the game but there is another opportunity for us."

Team captain Robbie Keane said: "The performances away from home have been good and it's been a decent campaign, but it will mean nothing if we don't produce here. We're in this campaign to be in the World Cup and this game will decide that.

"Over the years we've seen strange results happen. There's another twist in this tie, I believe that."

Ireland's team is expected to be unchanged from Saturday and will line-out as follows:
Shay Given (Manchester City);
John O'Shea (Manchester United), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), Sean St. Ledger (Middlesbrough), Kevin Kilbane (Hull City); Liam Lawrence (Stoke City), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Keith Andrews (Blackburn Rovers), Damien Duff (Fulham); Robbie Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Kevin Doyle (Wolverhampton Wanderers).

The match will be broadcast live on RTE radio, on RTE 2 and on Sky Sports TV. Kick-off will be at 8 pm.