Irish need a miracle in Paris

Rep of Ireland 0 France 1

Shortly before half-time on Saturday evening, the Croke Park crowd howled with delight as a dithering Nicolas Anelka, starved of options, laboured in possession for so long that he was pickpocketed by Robbie Keane. You could say that the moment summed up a first half where Ireland succeeded in rattling their visitors. The bigger picture, however, is that the vignette goes some way towards explaining the French victory secured by the boot of Anelka and an unfortunate deflection off Sean St Ledger.

To contain Les Bleus Ireland needed an energetic defensive effort that was ultimately unsustainable. An Irish team operating a rigid system encountered opponents with an open mind. Anelka may have cut a frustrated figure before the interval, but he kept coming back until the 72nd-minute moment when, finally, there was no pursuer in sight. The ricochet was cruel for the hosts and, particularly, the impressive St Ledger. Yet there was nothing fortuitous about the build-up.

When Kevin Kilbane gave the ball away, Lassana Diarra, Yoann Gourcuff and Anelka combined rapidly to create the space. There were similar passages of play in the second half until the visitors got their reward.

Is this over? The simple reality is that Ireland will have to achieve their best ever result on opposition soil to turn it around in Paris on Wednesday. There is no precedent.

Nevertheless, Giovanni Trapattoni can draw comfort from the fact that when his side got enough bodies into the box they found France nervous at the back. Between now and Wednesday, the Italian must decide if that knowledge will alter his approach.

After all, he can no longer claim that his team are unbeaten in competitive action. The Italian stressed that the play-off required extra from what was produced in the qualification group. That next level requires being more than just difficult to beat.

"The one thing we didn't want to do is concede a goal and we did that," said a deflated Robbie Keane. "We knew it was going to be tough on Wednesday, but it's going to be tougher now."

The match was frenetic in the opening stages with Damien Duff assuming the unlikely role of aggressor with a crunching tackle on Bacary Sagna after 20 seconds.

For under-fire France coach Raymond Domenech, who later confirmed that he rowed with his captain Thierry Henry in the team hotel beforehand, it was a disconcerting period. Anelka and Gourcuff exchanged angry words amid a frenzy of Irish tackles.

Ireland should have gone ahead in the 24th minute. An innocuous long ball prompted chaos as Kevin Doyle rose to flick Robbie Keane into space. The Irish captain was unable to clip the ball over the advancing Hugo Lloris who could only divert the ball into the path of Liam Lawrence. Lawrence seemed to be guilty of an embarrassing miss but replays proved that Patrice Evra had somehow diverted the goalbound poke to safety.

After half-time France imposed themselves with Lassana Diarra gaining a foothold. Anelka and Henry floated around freely as Ireland's battery power wore down.

Much hope had rested on Ireland's set pieces but they forced only three corners and never won a free-kick in a dangerous area. For all their frailty under aerial assault, the French rearguard, as Eric Abidal suggested mid week, were clever enough in terms of staying on their feet.

Anelka's goal forced Trapattoni to make three substitutions but there was little time for Leon Best, Aiden McGeady or Stephen Hunt to make a real impact. A howler from Abidal did allow Best and Keane to combine for Glenn Whelan's last-ditch attempt to restore parity but that effort was denied by Lloris.

"I thought Glenn would score, it was bad luck," reflected Keane. "Hopefully we can get some of it on Wednesday. We know it has to be something special but we're not talking about a normal game here. We're talking about qualifying for the World Cup. If we don't believe we can win it, then we won't."

The problem for Ireland is that sometimes belief and spirit is simply not enough. The dream is slipping away.

Republic of Ireland: Given; O'Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Kilbane, Lawrence (McGeady 76), Whelan, Andrews, Duff (Hunt, 80), Doyle (Best, 72), Keane. Substitutes not used: Joe Murphy (gk), McShane, Kelly, Gibson.

France: Lloris; Sagna, Gallas, Abidal, Evra, L Diarra, A Diarra, Gourcuff, Anelka, Gignac (Malouda, 90), Henry. Substitutes not used: Mandanda (gk), Escude, Govou, Benzema, Sissoko, Squillaci.

Referee: F Brych (Germany).

Final countdown: Qualifiers' details

Qualified for finals

hosts South Africa. Africa Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon.

Asia Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea. Europe Denmark, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland.

South America Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina. North, Central America and caribbean United States, Mexico and Honduras.

n play-offs

Asia/Oceania play-off winner New Zealand.

to be completed on wednesday

Uruguay (1) v Costa Rica (0) ko 23.00

France (1) v Rep of Ireland (0) 20.00

Ukraine (0) v Greece (0) 18.00

Slovenia (1) v Russia (2) 19.45

Bosnia (0) v Portugal (1) 19.45

Algeria v Egypt (one-off match to decide winner of African Group C) 17.30

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor