A real boost to FAI coffers, but Irish team will have their work cut out

 

2010 WORLD CUP QUALIFYING CAMPAIGN PLAY-OFFS:THE FINANCE department up at the FAI might have been celebrating after yesterday’s draw for next month’s World Cup play-offs, but the football end of the operation was a little more circumspect about the prospect of a trip to Paris.

Giovanni Trapattoni pointed once again to his side’s performances against Italy as evidence the team can cope with anything, including the fire-power of the French. But there was an admission, too, that his players must raise their game once more if their World Cup dreams are not to die next month in St Denis.

The home leg, which contrary to the manager’s wishes will be the first to be played, should be worth between €10 million and €15 million to the FAI at a time when they are struggling to meet their financial commitments. But chief executive John Delaney insisted the association would not be content now to exit the competition with a big cheque in their back pocket.

“They (the French) are potentially the most lucrative of the opponents, all right,” he acknowledged in Zurich. “But it’s really not about that. There would be no point in playing 10 games to get this far and then not getting through.”

The prospect of the Irish achieving that grand prize of a place at next summer’s World Cup in South Africa would now appear to depend not only on their ability to find a higher gear but also on France failing to achieve their potential over the two legs.

The 1998 World Champions turned in a strong performance against Austria at the Stade de France last weekend when they won 3-1, but they were far from consistent over the course of their group campaign. Trapattoni will be hoping their form in Dublin will be more reminiscent of their display a little over a year ago in Vienna, where they conceded three goals and lost.

“These games are like cup finals,” said the Ireland manager not long after hearing the news from Fifa’s headquarters. “We have come through the qualification group as one of only five teams in Europe with an unbeaten record,” he said, “and we got positive results against Italy both home and away. That will give us self-belief going into these games.

“We have done well so far, but over the 180 minutes we must give something additional, we will have to be even more concentrated and focused than we have been until now. At this point, it is not about world rankings, it is more like a cup final over two legs.”

Ireland’s ability to cope with the many and varied talents of the French attack looks to be greatest question mark hanging over the team as it begins the countdown to the first leg on November 14th, but Trapattoni preferred to dwell on the fact the French conceded one goal more than his side over their 10 games. And this in a group they were seeded to win.

“I think that this France side is stronger than that at the 2006 World Cup when they got to the final,” he claimed. “The majority of the players in the squad play in the Champions League, they are at tops clubs in England, Spain and France.

“I have seen their games and we were more than surprised that they did not finish top of their group,” he continued. “But they have lost one game and drawn three, while we have shown that we can get results away as well as at home. All of this will strengthen our conviction and belief that we can get a result.”

The manager admitted to feeling disappointed his side must play at home first and said they will have to be more focused than ever on the need to avoid conceding goals.

Though the recent result against Italy was regarded as highly respectable, the 2-2 scoreline would not be considered a strong basis on which to go into the second leg of these play-offs. And Ireland’s results over the two legs against the World Champions would, of course, result in elimination were they to be repeated in mid-November.

“We always made clear that we would have preferred to play our first leg away from home for that reason, which now makes it very important not to concede at home in the first leg,” he said.

“But you should also remember that our away form shows that we are capable of getting results away from home.”

The Irish supporters, he said, had been an important factor in the team’s performances on the road and he expressed the hope there will be large numbers for the return to St Denis which, famously, reverberated to the sound of 30,000 enthusiastically humming La Marseillaise five years ago.

“We saw against Italy, Bulgaria and Montenegro how the support of our fans can help the team to get a positive result. They demonstrated how much of a difference they can make away from home. And at home, it goes without saying how much their support means to us.”

Whether it will all be enough remains to be seen. The concern, though, must be that the French, just as they did towards the end of the 2006 World Cup qualification campaign, when Thierry Henry scored a fine winning goal in Dublin, will be capable of doing just enough to secure their place once again on the game’s greatest stage.

Trapattoni, needless to say, has other ideas.

2010 WCQ – Play-off Draw

November 14th

Republic of Ireland v France

Russia v Slovenia

Greece v Ukraine

Portugal v Bosnia-Herzegovina

November 18th

France v Republic of Ireland

Ukraine v Greece

Bosnia-Herzegovina v Portugal

Slovenia v Russia