The time has come once again for us to don the famous Green jersey, fly the tricolour, and come out in force to cheer on our Boys in Green in their quest for World Cup qualification. All that stands in our way is the waning superpower that is, France.
Ireland is within touching distance of reaching their first World Cup finals since Japan & Korea in 2002, while France could be faced with the possibility of not qualifying for the first time since 1994.
It’s a worrying time for Les Bleus, who have been finalists in two of the last three World Cups, and will be trying to qualify via the backdoor of the play-off, for the first time in their history.
Raymond Domenech’s French side have paid the price for a dismal qualifying campaign, ending up runners-up in a group they really should have won.
Their away form is very patchy to say the least, with only two wins from five games on the road.
Those games were both 1-0 wins against Lithuania and Faroe Islands respectively, not exactly teams that would set our world alight with their footballing talents. In their other three away games: they drew in both Romania and Serbia, while fell to a defeat in Austria.
For Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland, it will be their fourth time being in this play-off situation. Having remained unbeaten in Group 8; Ireland look to have been given a new lease of life under the veteran Italian.
Tonight’s David vs. Goliath game will be the biggest of these Irish players careers, and in a time of doom and gloom Ireland, a rub of the green is what we need to pull off the impossible and life the spirits of the nation.
We know that during the week the Irish squad have been put through their paces with set-piece, in particular, penalties. Trapattoni was even seen keeping the goalkeepers behind for extra training.
So, does this mean the Italian is playing for two draws, and then a subsequent penalty-shoot out in Stade de France on Wednesday night? I would not be surprised.
Ireland have scored 7 goals from set-pieces in qualifying, which accounts for 58% of their goal tally, a feat only bettered by four sides. On the other hand, France have conceded 6 goals from set-pieces in the run-up to this game, which is 67% of the total goals against them. Set-pieces could well have a huge influence on this game.
While France may not be the powerhouse of the past when they won the 1998 World Cup on home soil, and then Euro 2000 two years later, they have got a group of players who have plenty of European pedigree; 40 French nationals are playing in this seasons Champions League, compared to Ireland’s 2, John O’Shea and Darren Gibson, this experience is where France look superior.
All eyes will be on Croke Park tonight, where the two teams will take centre stage, in what promises to be the most exciting two-legged affair since David Beckham and Rebecca Loos.
Ireland have defied odds by finishing second in their qualifying group, now is their chance to defy all the odds once again and do the unthinkable, knock France out, and book their tickets for South Africa next summer.
With 180 minutes of football ahead, fasten your seat belts because the white knuckle ride is about to being. But, be warned, it won’t be pretty, that’s for sure.
Touchline Views Prediction: Ireland 1-0 France