After a miserable and scrappy first half in Dublin, France stepped up their game to take the spoils and a vital lead back to Paris for the second leg of this World Cup Qualifier. Nicolas Anelka’s 72nd minute goal now means that Ireland will have to score atthe Stade de France next Wednesday evening to stand any chance of progressing to the World Cup in South Africa.
The first half opened with all the expected tension visible from the players body language. Irish hearts were in their mouths after 11 minutes when Toulouse striker André-Pierre Gignac had the ball in the back of the net after pouncing on a long pass form
French defender Eric Abidal which Richard Dunne allowed bounce over his head. Luckily for the Irish centre-back, Gignac was ruled to be offside when the pass was played.
Glenn Whelen was continuing his fine form for Ireland in the centre of the park, as was Keith Andrews. Both Ireland’s centre midfielders were competing for every loose ball and playing adventurously from box to box. However, Ireland’s first guilt edge chance of the night fell to Liam Lawrence less than ten yards form the goal line.
A long ball from the Irish defence fell into Robbie Keane’s path. His shot was saved by French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and rebounded towards Liam Lawrence. His shot was just tapped past the post by Patrice Evra. Lawrence really should done better with his shot.
As the first half wore on, French counter attacks began to gain momentum and speed, and started to give the initiative to the visitors. Ireland resorted to the long ball tactics of old, though this options seemed to unsettle a French side that was struggling to deal with the high ball.
The halftime break came at just the right moment for an Ireland team that was being worn down by a patient French side working the ball from wing to wing. France’s composure nearly paid off as Henry eventually got a shot away at Shay Given’s goal just before half time, only for it to be blasted wide.
France carried over their momentum from the end of the first half into the opening stages of the second. Ireland continued to resort to counter attacking and playing long balls down the wide channels to carve out goal-scoring opportunities. Although, quick minded play from Damien Duff allowed the winger to turn Bacary Sagna and win Ireland a corner.
The resulting corner caused panic in the French defensive set-up and after the corner is swung in, a goal-mouth scramble ensued. The ball ricocheted around the box following Dunne directed the initial cross towards goal and Keane attempted an overhead kick only for the assistant to raise his flag for offside.
A tremendously struck shot from Lassana Diarra drew a deep breadth from all Irish fans alike after his ‘out of the blue’ shot from 40 yards only whistled past the post. However, there was nothing unforeseen about the next passage of play as France took control of possession after the hour mark.
The French teams boost in pace and style of play coincided with Thierry Henry finally beginning to have an influence on the game. The aforementioned player and attacking midfielder Yoann Gourcuff began to play on the same wavelength and set up Gignac for his second chance of the night, for which he was coincidentally offside again. Regardless, Given safely touched the striker’s header over the bar.
Further French pressure wore down the Irish unit as they sniffed an opportunity to score a potentially tie deciding away goal. There were appeals for a penalty from the French when Patrice Evra went down in the box just before the 70th minute mark only for his claim’s to be prematurely turned down. The French left-back got to the ball first in the box and was taken down by Given. However, the referee adjudged him not to have been in control of the ball for a foul to be awarded.
Justice was served, in French minds, two minutes later when a Nicolas Anelka shot deflected into the Irish net off defender Sean St Ledger. The goal was a deserved reward for a French team that had over 7o% possession in the second half. Ireland seemed to fall apart after the goal as Croke Park was stunned into silence for a 10 second interval which seemed to feel like a minute.
After the goal, Giovanni Trapattoni brought on Aiden McGeady and Stephen Hunt for Liam Lawrence and the uncharacteristically mediocre Damien Duff. Their introduction did little to appease the French pressure as the visitors continued to ask questions of the Irish defence.
Entering the final ten minutes, the game still had much more to offer and ended in vibrant fashion. Both sides had chances to score through Gignac and Whelen respectively. Gignac missed an open goal after Anelka had tested Given following a bad Kilbane backpass. While, another mistake, this time by France’s Abidal, allowed Keane to lay off the ball for Whelen to strike, however, Lloris was equal to the challenge.
The game fizzled out after Whelen’s attempt, with France keeping he ball through a mixture of time-wasting tactics and good technique. Tensions carried over after the final whistle as Keith Andrews had an on pitch scuffle with French midfielder Lassana Diarra. Many players got involved and the situation only adds more storyline to the fixture to come in Paris next Wednesday in Paris.
Ireland: Shay Given, John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger, Kevin Kilbane, Liam Lawrence (Stephen Hunt 80min), Glenn Whelen Keith Andrews, Damien Duff (Aiden McGeady 76min), Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle (Leon Best 70min).
France: Hugo Lloris, Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Eric Abidal, Patrice Evra, Alou Diarra, Lassana Diarra, Yoann Gourcuff, Nicolas Anelka (Goal 72min), Theirry Henry, André-Pierre Gignac.