Given rages at bad luck of the Irish

As the Republic keeper hits out at 'unfair' Fifa system, Nick Harris runs the rule over the play-off draw for the World Cup finals
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Republic of Ireland v France

Manchester City's Irish goalkeeper Shay Given maintained yesterday that Fifa's seeding system for the World Cup qualifying play-offs in Europe is "totally unfair" after the Republic of Ireland were given the tough task of facing France for a berth in South Africa.

France were one of four "top" seeds in the eight-team play-offs, with the seedings based on the world rankings, while the Irish, unbeaten in a qualifying section that included world champions Italy, were among the four bottom seeds, guaranteeing a tough match.

Fifa only announced at the end of September that the draw would be seeded. Sceptics have accused the world governing body of a stitch-up, arguing that the seeded draw increased the chances of the major nations with star players and large potential TV markets making it to the finals.

France, Portugal, Russia and Greece were thus the top-seeded nations, with the Republic, Ukraine, Bosnia and Slovenia unseeded. Given, who will line up against the French in a double-header to be staged at Croke Park on 14 November, then in Paris on the 18th remains angry at Fifa's late decision.

"The seeding thing is totally unfair," he said. "As one of the smaller countries, it is hard enough to qualify at the best of times. To change the rules a couple of weeks before the end of the campaign is ridiculous, farcical. But that is what they have done and we have to get on with it.

"We want to be in South Africa. Every player wants to play in the World Cup finals against the best players in the world. It is a special World Cup when the Irish supporters are there. Hopefully we can get there."

Gérard Houllier, the former France and Liverpool manager who was at yesterday's draw in Zurich representing the French Football Federation, believes France now have a "50-50 chance" of qualifying.

"Ireland are one of the toughest opponents for Les Bleus," he said. "Beforehand I had a hunch that France would draw Ireland (coached by Giovanni Trapattoni, right) and I was right. Nobody wanted to draw Ireland because they've finished their qualification group unbeaten."

Portugal v Bosnia-Herzegovina

If the world's most expensive player of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo, is to make it to the World Cup after all, his Portuguese team will have to beat the highest-scoring second-placed team in qualifying to do so.

Bosnia netted 25 goals in a campaign where there was no disgrace in losing three games from 10, twice to the European champions, Spain, and away in Turkey. Zvjezdan Misimovic, an attacking midfielder with Wolfsburg, and Zlatan Muslimovic, a striker with POAK in Greece, are their danger men.

Carlos Queiroz, in charge of a Portuguese team that regularly features three Chelsea defenders as well as midfielder Deco and Manchester United's Nani, believes the Bosnians will be tough opponents. "Reputation has no weight in these circumstances," he said.

Russia v Slovenia

It's safe to say that the Russians were pleased with their draw and it would be hard to find any sane non-Slovenian who would tip defeat for Arsenal's Andrei Arshavin, Tottenham's Roman Pavlyuchenko and their mates, under the guidance of serial winner Guus Hiddink, against Slovenia's Robert Koren of West Bromwich and his pals from the likes of Grenoble, Tom Tomsk, Vitesse, Omonia and Gent.

Even Slovenia's coach Matjaz Kek said yesterday: "Russia are clear favourites in our two matches and I am worried about the conditions we will have in Russia. But mainly I hope my players will be well prepared in the middle of November because this time the matches are decisive."

Russia are the bookies' most certain play-off team to qualify, at 1-5.

Greece v Ukraine

The surprise winners of Euro 2004 meet World Cup quarter-finalists from 2006 in a game where the only Premier League interest in the tie is at Liverpool. Yes, it's the battle to see whether it will be defender Sotos Kyrgiakos of Greece or striker Andrei Voronin of Ukraine who gets to travel from Anfield to South Africa next summer.

The Ukrainians lost just one match in qualifying, to England at Wembley in April. The Greeks, higher in the world rankings at No 16 to Ukraine's No 22, lost twice, home and away to the mighty Swiss. Greece only confirmed the runners-up spot in their section after winning their last match at home against Luxembourg 2-1.

All ties to be played on 14 and 18 November.