Wasted opportunities haunt Kerr

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The Independent Football

When the Group Four draw was made that was a scenario the Irish would have accepted. But such has been the poor form of France up until now, and such have been the chances spurned by Ireland - who surrendered leads twice to Israel and away to Switzerland - that Brian Kerr's side should now be comfortably in control, not scrabbling with the also-rans.

Regret was the over-riding theme of Wednesday's disappointing defeat at Lansdowne Road to Thierry Henry's wondrous second-half goal. Regret that Ireland became the first of the top four sides to crack and lose a tie against another, and regrets, it must be hoped, at the distracting siege mentality which has gripped the squad of late.

The build-up to the game - the biggest in Dublin since the Netherlands were beaten on the way to the last World Cup - was side-tracked by tales of nights out, lager and karaoke principally involving Robbie Keane. Unfortunately, he was one of the biggest disappointments in an otherwise positive display.

There was a palpable sense of shock after the match which will only sharpen the keen appetites that already exist within the Football Association of Ireland to replace Kerr should he fail to qualify. Talks are already on ice over a new contract and although opinion is split - some believe he is being harshly dealt with - the Irish cannot contemplate failure to reach another major championships.

The advertising campaign showing a picture of Damien Duff with the caption: "Made in Ireland; Built for Germany" looked all the more cruel yesterday, while players such as Roy Keane and Kenny Cunningham will not be around much longer. It could be a long haul.

The immediate task in Cyprus is made all the harder because Keane, along with Andy Reid and Clinton Morrison, will be suspended. It will not be a formality. But first the Irish have to deal with their disappointment. The defender Richard Dunne said of the French defeat: "The occasion was the real big thing. It was more of a play-off to see who can get through as winners of the group."

Ireland never make it easy for themselves. "It's the usual thing," Dunne added. "There wasn't much between us. It will probably come down to our last match [with Switzerland]."

There is irony in that, too, which will not be lost on Kerr. The last time the Swiss visited Dublin proved to be Mick McCarthy's final game. The portents for his successor do not look good.