Domenech knows what to expect from our 'England B' side


GIVEN THAT his diplomatic efforts in the past have prompted some the country’s leading players to hang up their boots early – and there appears always to be at least one feud with a major star in progress – it should not come as any great surprise that France manager Raymond Domenech yesterday described Ireland as the “England B team” after hearing who he and his side must overcome if they are to make it to another World Cup finals tournament.

Speaking on RTL radio, in no small part because his relationship with large sections of the rest of the French media is so difficult these days, the 52-year-old went on to welcome the outcome of the draw, insisting the knowledge he and his players possess of next month’s opponents would more than compensate for having to face the second-highest-ranked of the non-seeded sides.

“We know what we have to do and that is the important thing,” said the former Lyon, PSG and Bordeaux player, who was also in charge when France came to Dublin four years ago and won thanks to second-half strike by Thierry Henry.

“Whatever the opposition I would be saying the same thing: that our only objective is to qualify. As it is, it is the Republic of Ireland and so now we must do it by beating them.

“But the best thing is that we know all their players because they play in the Premier League. Some of my players know them very well. There won’t be any surprises. We know precisely what to expect.”

Domenech acknowledged that Ireland have emerged unbeaten from a group that included the world champions, but he did not sound overawed by the achievement.

“They are very solid, very physical, but we also have these qualities. They are the England Bs.”

The remark might come back to haunt him.

But it is hard to imagine he would have any future in the job anyway should his side lose to Ireland over two legs and fail to qualify for next summer’s tournament finals in South Africa.

His grip on the manager’s job looked just as precarious when he brought the French to Lansdowne Road in September 2005, however, with the qualification group still extremely tight ahead of the game against Ireland.

The three points secured by the French that night provided the impetus for qualification, and while a great many of the country’s football media then presumed that a poor showing in Germany would force his departure, the team, driven on by a resurgent Zinedine Zidane, went all the way to the final in Berlin where they came within a whisker of regaining the title by beating Italy.

Since then there has been the rather dismal failure of the European Championships. The team qualified despite losing at home to both Ukraine and, more ominously, Scotland, but it was in Switzerland that things really came off the rails.

A goalless draw with Romania was followed by tame defeats by Italy and the Netherlands.

For many, Domenech had played a key part in the team’s failure with questionable selections and his poor relationship with key members of the squad seen as having undermined the chances of a group that was already in decline.

For a while his future hung in the balance. In the end, however, the federation opted to stick with him for another campaign.

His employers are unlikely to worry too much about who they might turn to in the event that Ireland come out on top next month, but Domenech, they know, has surprised his critics before and few in France would bet heavily against him doing it again.