Trapattoni warns against complacency


Soccer - World Cup Play-Off Draw:France stand between the Republic of Ireland and a place in the World Cup finals. This afternoon’s play-off draw in Zurich pitted Giovanni Trapattoni’s side against the 1998 world champions. Ireland will host Raymond Domenech’s side at Croke Park on November 14th with the return leg taking place in Paris four days later.

Fifa’s contentious decision to seed proceedings - with Ireland in the second tier - meant Trapattoni was never going to get a favourable draw. But of the four teams in the hat that Ireland could have drawn - Portugal, Greece and Russia being the others - France are perhaps the most dangerous.

Though Trapattoni appeared quietly confident after the draw, he also warned against complacency at this point of no return at the end of a long qualifying campaign.

“These games are like cup finals, we have come through the qualification group and are one of only five teams in Europe with an unbeaten record, that will give us self-belief going into these games,” said Trapattoni.

“We have done well so far but over the 180 minutes we must give something additional and we will have to be even more concentrated and focused than we have been until now.

“We have come out of a group containing the current world champions, Italy, and have got positive results against them in both games. Now we face the 2006 World Cup finalists and our results to date will give us the conviction and the belief that we can get a result,” added the Italian.

Despite a mediocre and disjointed qualifying campaign, which saw them lose out to Serbia in Group Seven, France rallied to make the play-offs and certainly have the tools to unlock the Irish defence and the ties represent a massive challenge.

Domenech came under fire in France after overseeing a campaign pockmarked with poor results and in-fighting but any side containing the likes of Thierry Henry, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema pose all sorts of problems.

Nevertheless, Domenech’s side are vulnerable at set-pieces and Trapattoni and his management team will surely seek to exploit this weakness.

There is a general belief that the French will not relish facing Ireland and France Football Federation (FFF) technical director Gerard Houllier was cautiously optimistic at best.

“Ireland are one of the toughest opponents for Les Bleus,” said Houllier, who was in Zurich for today’s draw. “Beforehand I had a hunch that France would draw Ireland and I was right. They (Ireland) will be difficult.

“Nobody wanted to draw Ireland because they know they’ve finished their qualification group unbeaten.

“With Trapattoni (at the helm) we won’t win by scoring lots of goals but we also don’t lose a lot. It will be a great battle over 180 minutes,” added the former Liverpool manager.

"Ireland are competitive and tricky to play but we must not overrate them. It's a slight advantage to play the return leg at home but the first leg is often the most important one because it either gives you confidence or ruins your hopes."

FFF vice-president Noel Le Graet added: "France, with the quality of their football, must qualify. We made life difficult for ourselves but now we must make sure we are competitive."

Ireland last met France during qualifying for the 2006 World Cup when they drew 0-0 at the Stade de France but were then beaten 1-0 at Lansdowne Roay, Henry grabbing the winner.

To reach South Africa, Trapattoni’s side are going to have to buck a worrying trend - Ireland have yet to reach a major finals by beating European opposition in a play-off situation.

Mick McCarthy may have led the team to the 2002 World Cup after overcoming Iran in the play-offs but Ireland have lost out on four other occasions.

Spain were the first to deny Ireland access to a World Cup finals back in 1965 and in the intervening years Ireland also lost out to the Netherlands (Euro 96), Belgium (1998 World Cup) and Turkey (Euro 2000) in other showdowns.

World Cup play-off draw:

Republic of Irelandv France
Portugal v Bosnia-Herzogovina
Greece v Ukraine
Russia v Slovenia

(* Two-legged ties to be played on November 14th and 18th)