Irish all report fit for showdown in Paris


SOCCER WORLD CUP 2010 QUALIFYING:WHILE FRENCH coach Raymond Domenech faces the task of reorganising his defence due to the loss of Eric Abidal ahead of tomorrow night’s play-off second leg at the Stade de France, Marco Tardelli confirmed after everyone trained in Malahide yesterday that Ireland will have a full squad to choose from for a game they must win if they are to avoid World Cup elimination.

Sebastien Squillaci is likely to come into the French back four for the Paris match, with William Gallas shifting to the left side of central defence in order to accommodate the 29-year-old from Toulon.

The visitors, on the other hand, may well be unchanged, with only Liam Lawrence’s place looking to be under serious threat, and that despite the fact the Stoke City midfielder did reasonably well on the right side on Saturday night in Croke Park.

“Maybe Giovanni will make a decision on who to play tomorrow (today) but I don’t think he will change too much because the Irish did well in the first game,” said Tardelli.

“We had chances to score and could have won the match. Afterwards, the players were disappointed because they lost but psychologically, I think they were lifted by training and it is important that they go to Paris with their heads held high.

“We scored goals in Bari against Italy and in Sofia against Bulgaria so we know, we believe we can score in Paris too. It’s vital, however, that we don’t concede again because it would be very difficult to recover from being another goal down.”

The coach then, will have to strike a balance between the pursuit of the goal Ireland need just to stay in the tie and the need to avoid falling further behind. His track record with Ireland suggests it may be some time into the game before he starts to show any signs of throwing caution to the wind.

Winger Damien Duff, however, feels the visitors have to take the game to their opponents if they are to have any real chance of battling their way through to the World Cup and the Dubliner suggests that, if they perform to their potential then another French goal need not necessarily be the end of the Irish players’ World Cup dream.

“We’ve obviously given ourselves an uphill task,” says the Fulham winger. “Away goals are a massive thing in football but if we go over there and nick one then it’s game on again so we are all confident we can go and do it. You have to be.

“We obviously have to take a few more chances than we usually do. It (the system) is tried and trusted with the gaffer and the shape. It’s the same at club level with me. It must be the Italian thing with Roy Hodgson working over there as well. But we’ll see how the game pans out. We are obviously looking for a goal, or two, or three.

“We will have to take a few more chances.”

Three may sound just a little optimistic but Duff rejects the idea that such a scenario is out of the question, pointing instead to the possibility of qualifying for South Africa by outscoring the 2006 finalists on their own soil.

“It’s not the end of the world (if Ireland concedes),” he says. “One goal and it’s a draw so we are looking for two or even three – so even if they score another one and we win 2-1 we are through. If they score again, even if we don’t want them to, it is still game on.”

Duff admits that having not scored himself at this level since the first game of the Steve Staunton era, nearly four years ago, he could do with making a contribution on this front and, he reckons, he is good enough shape at the moment to end the barren spell.

“It would be nice,” he says. “I am due one. I’ve been getting them at club level so I am due one with the international team, so it would be nice. I feel good, I feel sharp so I don’t see why not.”

Still, the balance of Saturday’s game suggests it will be desperately tough for Ireland to make the sort of breakthroughs the former Blackburn, Chelsea and Newcastle midfielder is talking about.

Indeed, he concedes the French kept the ball far more effectively that the home side at Croke Park but he insists the key difference was the fact Domenech’s men, thanks mainly to a lucky break, took one of their chances while the Irish did not.

“Everyone says about the luck of the Irish but I don’t think we have really had much of it over the past few campaigns,” he says.

Qualifying now, he concedes, will require what would possibly be the best Irish result ever achieved but, he maintains; “We have taken an awful lot of positives out of Saturday. Other people may not have but we think we can go there and do it.”