Brady hopes match officials will be strong


SOCCER WORLD CUP 2010 PLAY-OFF:WITH THE Irish management team still peeved about the way the draw for the World Cup play-offs was conducted, Liam Brady insists that the referees in Ireland’s two games against France will have to guard against any suggestion that they, too, are favouring the favourites.

“These are huge games,” he says, “and I have had experience of playing against the French in tournaments going back more than 20 years, but the one thing I hope we get this time is a good referee.

“The focus is on them now particularly after the way Fifa changed the seeding for the play-off draw and made it easier for the more glamorous teams but fortunately these referees are at the top of their game – they are two Champions League referees, and I am pleased about that because it is a very important aspect of this game.

“We have to believe that the match officials will be strong and independent-minded enough to ignore any sense that it is France that the powers that be in Fifa would prefer to see in South Africa (next summer) because these – Martin Hansson of Sweden and Germany’s Felix Brych – are two Champions League referees and they will be thoroughly scrutinised because of what’s gone on. We certainly expect better refereeing than when I was a player.”

Brady and his then team-mates did indeed get some rough treatment from match officials through the late 1970s and early 1980s but he is confident that with fair play from the referees and the experience they picked up from two eventful games against Italy this year, the current side can beat the French in Dublin and put themselves in a strong position to secure qualification next Wednesday in Paris.

“They (the French) are very, very talented players, I don’t think anybody denies that but that doesn’t mean we fear them. There is confidence and spirit about this Irish team, a belief that we can qualify, there is no doubt about that.

“And it’s not that we will prepare any differently, but we know that any mistakes will be costly, and we know all about the pressure that comes on, which has to be handled because of the Italy game.

“That game was a great lesson for us because we didn’t hold on to our lead when we had it. Things could have been done differently and the manager made that known to the players.

“In terms of belief and the lessons learned, the Italian game will stand us in good stead over these two games. It is fresh in our minds and it will help us to have looked at both the lessons learned and the positive aspects of that game before we go into this one.”

Having emerged unbeaten from the group stages, Brady likens the play-offs to semi-finals in the Champions League with both sides anxious to steal a march on their opponents but desperate not to do anything that might leave them chasing the game in the process. Still, he insists, a win in Dublin should be the aim.

“The team spirit is very strong, that’s been demonstrated on the field of play in certain games. The players know what their jobs are and I think there is a belief that, if we stick to our game plan, we can qualify for the World Cup.

“But there is more pressure on us now, we know what we are playing for and in that sense it is like a European Cup semi-final. From that point of view any advantage at all going to Paris would be very, very welcome. As it is, the pressure will be more on them but if we carried a lead to Paris then the pressure would really pile on them.”

A couple of squad members have suggested they would settle for a goalless draw but Brady is not so sure. “Well, it’s better than a 1-1, that’s for certain. Like I’ve said, this is like a Champions League semi-final and a 0-0 at home has been a good result in those circumstances because if, in the second leg, we get a goal, then the other side have to score two. At this stage, we’re unbeaten and we go to France confident of not losing but it would be nice to have the advantage. Nil all would be a good result here but not really ideal.”

Giovanni Trapattoni could well name his team at lunchtime today but the only real doubt is wide midfield where it is two from four – or, if you presume that Damien Duff will start – one from three.

The players selected, says Brady, will have been briefed in detail on what to expect from the French and the attacking natures of French full backs, Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna, will get due attention but, he insists, “We have match-winners and we have our own way of playing and it’s important that we stick to that. We have scored in most games in the qualifying campaign and we are very strong at set pieces which I don’t think they are particularly strong at, so that will hopefully be an important area”.

Potentially of major importance too, he reckons, will be the support of the home crowd although there remains some suspicion that the relentlessly negative assessments by the TV pundits of Ireland performances might be dampening the public’s enthusiasm just slightly.

But is Brady surprised by how downbeat his former colleagues still are about the team?

“No, I worked with them,” he says, before cracking a smile and heading for the door.