The second leg of this World Cup playoff qualifier between Ireland and France is only a matter of hours away from kick off and French and Irish journalists alike are not taking anything for granted.
Both French and Irish publications build-up the occasion with their own take on the event that is about to unfold at the Stade de France. The Irish Times draw breadth from Robbie Keane’s comments made at yesterdays press conference that this Irish team “deserves a bit of luck” with the headline “Energy, endeavour and rub of the green”.
While French sport publication L’Equipe give the fixture a sentimental value with the headline on their cover “Le Grand Soir”, known as “The Great Evening”.
There has been suggestions from the aforementioned French paper that Ireland may crumble under the pressure of needing to score in Paris after conceding an away goal. This doesn’t seem to be a view shared wholly by their fans however, there are a large number supporters of Les Bleus that believe it is not beyond the realms of possibility.
In a poll conducted by L’Equipe, 58% of fans felt that France could put several goals past Ireland tonight. This contrasts to the other 40% who felt that it would be unlikely to happen, with 2% undecided.
Though the French fans are not completely in agreement, French journalists rave in todays edition about France having one-foot in South Africa. A bold headline on the inside page reads “They are at the end of track, just avoiding takeoff”.
The closest that a French journalist arrives to conceiving that Ireland could overcome the odds and possibly qualify, comes in a question French journalist Jean-Michel Rouet posts to himself, reading “L’Irlande peut-elle le faire?”, “Irealand, can they do it?”.
Unfortunately in his argument with himself, he merely contradicts his opening statement by relating back to history of French performances in must win games, Ireland’s dependence on Robbie Keane and the inexperience of possible substitutes like Aiden McGeady, Leon Best and Paul McShane. All of whom he claims have less than thirty caps.
Although there is a consistent opinion through the publication, there is a definite sense that this positivity is aimed directly at the team, as opposed to the French management, especially manager Raymond Domenech. At press conferences held out in Clairefontaine in recent days, it is clear to see that there has been a breakdown in communication between the French management and players.
Many articles in the French football magazine, France Football, suggest that the players are playing for French captain Thierry Henry, while Domenech’s toughest critics claim that they are playing in spite of him.
Views of Domenech are typified with a cartoon in L’Equipe which show the French manager about to skydive out of a plane with his speech bubble directed at four onlooking players reading “ca s’ouvre on se qualifie sinon on est mort”. A rough translation reads “that (parachute) opens one is qualified, if not one is dead”.
Let us just hope that his parachute fails to open and Mr.Domenech fails to defy gravity, bringing French World Cup ambitions crashing downwards.