Football: Irish lose out on and off the field

Northern Ireland 0 France 1
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The Independent Online
LILIAN LASLANDES scored from Lilian Thuram's 67th-minute cross to give the world champions, France, their first-ever victory in Northern Ireland in a warm-up for next month's Euro 2000 qualifying games.

France went to Windsor Park without World Cup final star Zinedine Zidane and other leading figures such as Youri Djorkaeff, Emmanuel Petit and Thierry Henry, but still fielded a very strong team.

And that made the attendance particularly disappointing for the Irish Football Association, who were left counting the cost after only 11,800 fans turned up, around 3,000 under capacity. They were resigned to making substantial losses on the game because of the huge cost of bringing the world champions to Belfast.

It had been billed as an event for all the family and before kick-off the World Cup was paraded around the pitch by a young fan. The Ulster- born sports minister, Kate Hoey, was also there to see a brave Irish performance.

Unfortunately the game only came to life towards the end of the first half when Jon McCarthy robbed Bixente Lizarazu and shot against the post. McCarthy, playing on his 29th birthday after Keith Gillespie was dropped for the first time, was in impressive form all night.

France, ranked 69 places higher than the Irish in the world, felt they should have had a penalty when Barry Hunter clearly handled the ball after he had stumbled in the area.

The French looked rusty and Laurent Blanc almost let McCarthy in with a poor back- pass, but Barthez cleared the danger.

But they rallied and after scoring the goal it was left to McCarthy again to present the biggest danger, but he blazed high over the crossbar in the last minute with the substitute Gillespie calling for a pass.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Taylor (Fulham), A Hughes (Newcastle), Williams (Watford), Hunter (Reading), Horlock (Manchester City), McCarthy (Birmingham), Lennon (Leicester), Lomas (West Ham), Kennedy (Watford), Dowie (QPR), M Hughes (Wimbledon). Substitutes: Wright (Man City) for Taylor, 46, Gillespie (Blackburn) for Kennedy, 73, Quinn (West Brom) for Dowie, 55.

FRANCE: Barthez (Monaco), Thuram (Parma), Blanc (Internazionale), Desailly (Chelsea), Lizarazu (Bayern Munich), Boghossian (Parma), Vieira (Arsenal), Micoud (Bordeaux), Pires (Marseilles), Laslandes (Bordeaux), Wiltord (Bordeaux). Substitutes: Candela (Roma) for Lizarazu, 55, Leboeuf (Chelsea) for Desailly, 65, Dehu (Barcelona) for Vieira, 83, Robert (Paris St-Germain) for Wiltord, 55, Vairelles (Lyon) for Laslandes, 76.

Referee: Willie Young (Scotland)