Raymond Domenech, the France coach, hopes Saturday's hard-fought 1-0 win in Ireland proves a turning point in persuading the moody French public to finally get behind their team during tonight's return leg of their World Cup play-off.
France have long endured a hostile relationship with their supporters, with the team regularly jeered during home games and Domenech in particular on the receiving end of criticism.
Following their embarrassing performances at last year's European Championship, where they failed to win a match, French football would be plunged into crisis if the Republic of Ireland record an unlikely win tonight and qualify at their expense. To avoid such a peril, which would likely cost him his job, Domenech has urged the French to turn up the noise at the Stade de France. "We need the support of the fans from the first to the last minute," he said. "The fans have a real part to play."
France's 6,000 travelling fans made themselves heard at Croke Park last Saturday, which did not go unnoticed. "We heard them as if they were 100,000 strong. It was very pleasing to see them there among the mass of green," Domenech said. "The players saw it, as they were all grouped together in one stand, and they made a lot of noise."
Ireland last played at Stade de France five years ago during the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and received phenomenal backing. French reports estimate that 25,000 Irish fans have tickets for tonight's match – nearly a third of the stadium's capacity. "It is not logical to have 25,000 Irish fans," the France defender Patrice Evra said. "We're playing for a place in the World Cup finals."
Ireland are trying not to miss out for the second time in succession after failing to qualify in 2006. France could pack the midfield and defend their slender lead or look for a quick goal that would leave an Irish side with limited attacking resources needing to score twice.
Domenech suggested that France will attack from the first whistle. "You have to play normally, our strong point is scoring goals. We have to cause them problems," he said. "We shouldn't forget who we are and what we are capable of doing."
Domenech's plans to field the same team have been undone by injury problems. The Barcelona defender Eric Abidal is out with a thigh strain, meaning Domenech needs to find a replacement to play alongside William Gallas in the centre with Sebastien Squillaci of Seville the favourite. Midfielders Jérémy Toulalan and Abou Diaby are both out. "We thought Jérémy could recover, but it will be too tight for Wednesday. Abidal's injury was a bit unexpected," Domenech said.
Giovanni Trapattoni, the Ireland coach, is likely to hand the players who lost at Croke Park on Saturday a chance to gain revenge in Paris. The 70-year-old Italian last night hinted he will field the same team at the Stade de France, meaning Liam Lawrence will once again get the nod ahead of Aiden McGeady on the right side of midfield.
"I have said to the players, these games are for warm hearts and cool heads," Trapattoni said. "We must play with cool heads, but warm hearts. With feet, we can score goals. If we keep cool heads, we can use our feet to score goals."