Pluck of the Irish is deflated by Anelka

Republic of Ireland 0 France 1: Good performance from Trapattoni's men but France hold all the aces heading into Wednesday's crucial second leg
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The Independent Football

What a pity. This was arguably Ireland's best performance under Giovanni Trapattoni but it earned them absolutely nothing bar an incredibly steep hill to climb in Paris on Wednesday. Nicolas Anelka's deflected goal on 72 minutes was the difference between the teams on the night and the result means that Ireland have to score once at the Stade de France to stay in the tie, or twice if they want to win it without recourse to a penalty shoot-out. Which is a shame because Ireland's efforts last night were worthy of a 0-0 draw, or with some better finishing – particularly from Liam Lawrence in the first half – a single goal advantage.

Ultimately it wasn't to be, but there was still plenty to admire. Ireland's intent was obvious from the first whistle, which was to be expected but the cuteness of Ireland's early play was a bonus. It wasn't earth-shattering stuff by any means, but the home side passed in neat triangles and kept hold of possession much better than they had against Italy, particularly at the top end of the pitch.

Trapattoni was far from despondent, saying: "We are a little bit disappointed because for me, the right result was a draw. We have played 90 minutes and that is only the first half. We have the second half in Paris. Maybe we will have the same game in Paris and we will get the deflection."

Certainly France think they still face a challenge, as their coach, Raymond Domenech, acknowledged. "The Irish team is very much able to play, to impose themselves and to react, and we must be vigilant. Obviously, I prefer to be 1-0 up, but the only satisfaction at this point is to qualify."

Ireland the initiative early on but a more familiar route of attack, the good old long ball, almost produced a goal on 28 minutes. A lengthy boot from Sean St Ledger was flicked on by Kevin Doyle on the edge of the box and Robbie Keane sneaked between William Gallas and Bacary Sagna to get to the pitch of the ball. Ireland's captain controlled it and poked it towards goal in one movement but Hugo Lloris stood up long enough to block the ball.

Then came the head-in-hands moment. The rebound fell to Lawrence eight yards out but with the keeper on the floor, the Stoke midfielder screwed his effort wide of the post. He should have stuck it away, but Ireland continued on the front foot for the rest of the half. Two minutes after that near miss, clever link-up play involving Keane and Doyle put Andrews into space on the edge of the box but the midfielder's effort did not curl inside Lloris's left-hand post.

And what of France in that first half? André-Pierre Gignac had a chipped effort over Shay Given ruled out for offside, and Henry rasped a shot wide from 15 yards after Keith Andrews couldn't get the ball under control. But those efforts aside, the visitors were largely leaden-footed. Anelka was forced deeper than Bacary Sagna on the right, while Henry hardly got a touch. The game plan was working.

The worry, of course, was that France and their collection of attacking talent would come good at some point and a couple of long-range efforts not long after the break – one from Lassana Diarra, the other from Anelka – proved the point. Ireland continued to work prodigiously but there was a sense around the hour-mark that they were running out of steam.

The visitors might have had a penalty on 69 minutes when Patrice Evra went down under a challenge from Shay Given but three minutes later France stole the lead. A neat move involving Lassana Diarra and Yoann Gourcuff teed up Anelka on the edge of the box and the Chelsea striker's subsequent shot flew into the netvia a deflection off St Ledger and the post. Talk about luck. Raymond Domenech's stars must have been aligned.

Trapattoni threw on Aiden McGeady and Stephen Hunt in the game's dying throes and they just might have had an equaliser. Leon Best, who came on before the goal, threaded a ball through to Keane, who in turn flicked it into the path of Glenn Whelan. Lloris, though, spread himself brilliantly to block the midfielder's effort. Close. But, on the night, no cigar. Nor is their likely to be one on Wednesday either.

Attendance: 81,500

Referee: F Brych (Ger)

Man of the match: Anelka

Match rating: 7/10