The Republic of Ireland
may have lost the first leg of their play-off match to France, but they will have been able to take a
great deal of heart from the game at Croke
As usual, the Irish had a go and but for some poor finishing
and a slice of bad luck, they would be taking a goal with them to Paris.
A lot has been made of the part the crowd will play at the
Stade de France and I genuinely believe it will be a big factor on Wednesday.
Even though they have the lead, and an away goal, the onus
is well and truly on the French, and their fans know it.
Sitting on their slender lead will not be good enough for
them and they will expect their side to attack the Irish to kill off the game.
But the longer they fail to find the back of the net, the
more anxious the crowd will become. We've seen them turn on their own team
before and if it happens again, it cannot fail to have an effect on the
I never played for a team that was targeted by their own
fans in such a way, but I've seen it at England level not so long ago. Then
it was more of a club rivalry rearing its head, but it still affected the
players. No one wants to be booed by their own fans.
Yet that is what will happen to the French team if they do
not put the game out of reach early on. The Parisian crowd is notoriously
impatient and they are simply waiting for an excuse to have a go at Raymond
That presents the Irish with a great opportunity to register
what will be the most famous of turnarounds.
Had the game been in Marseille, I would be predicting a
French victory, no problems. But in Paris
it's a different story. The pressure on the hosts' shoulders is enormous and we
are yet to find out if they can handle it.
Add into the mix thousands of Irish fans who will no doubt
make more noise than their opposite numbers - who have little belief in their
own side - and Giovanni Trapattoni's men will be given a further lift.
Not only do the Irish have those fans in the stadium on
their side, but they also have the support of anyone who believes FIFA were
wrong to seed the draw. And there are plenty of them. Everyone loves an
underdog - and Ireland
love to play that role.
The French will have to shuffle their back line for the
game, and that in itself presents an opportunity for the Irish. Robbie Keane
and Kevin Doyle are the ones to take advantage and if either can get in behind
the French defence, the Irish stand a real chance of winning a golden ticket to
- - -
As expected, England
did not learn much from their trip to Doha.
The game against Brazil was always going to be a
case of going through the motions, and their performance proved it.
Fabio Capello's side were second best to Brazil and with
the possible exception of James Milner, those involved did little to convince
the coach of their ability to do a job at the World Cup.
That was the most disappointing aspect of the game. With so
many first-choice players out injured, I would have liked to have seen the likes
of Darren Bent and Jermaine Jenas do more to impress Capello.
They did not and, like the French players, their places on
the plane to South Africa
are far from assured.