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Comment - Belief can carry the Irish to glory
The Republic of Ireland's World Cup hopes will come down to just 90 minutes in the Stade de France this evening as they battle France for a place at the South African showpiece next summer.
Optimism was in plentiful supply among the Irish squad before Saturday's 1-0 first-leg defeat at Croke Park and with captain Robbie Keane stating his side have the confidence to win the return leg, morale appears to still be high.
But should the Republic really be contemplating victory over the 1998 world champions?
Take a closer look at the countries' two squads however, and you might be forgiven for thinking that the play-off result should be a forgone conclusion.
Where France are blessed with 35 million euro striker Karim Benzema on their bench, Ireland have to rely upon Coventry City's Leon Best as their man to come on and change the game.
This isn't an isolated example. 'Les Bleus' can boast players from Europe's top clubs – Thierry Henry of Barcelona, Lassana Diarra of Real Madrid and Nicolas Anelka of Chelsea to name just a few. Trapattoni's squad has a slightly more modest look about it, with Scunthorpe, Middlesborough and Hull City among the teams represented by his players.
Taking their latest transfer fees into account, Ireland's starting eleven from Saturday cost approximately £40 million. The French eleven combined cost in excess of £140 million.
That's not to say that the Republic don't have a chance tonight, of course they do. They ran Raymond Domenech's men very close in the first-leg and were unlucky to come away with nothing to show for their efforts.
What they lack in pace, skill and technical ability, they make up for with hard-work, effort and an overwhelming desire to reach their first major tournament for eight years. The players need to have confidence in their own ability. If you going into a game thinking you're going to lose then the likelihood is you probably will, especially against a team with the talent of France.
If Ireland are to reach the World Cup finals then they will need to become the first team to ever win a European play-off tie after losing the first-leg at home.
They might be massive underdogs to achieve that feat but if they keep their belief and get a little bit of luck to go with it, they might just be able to bridge that £100 million gulf in class.
- Joe Strange
FOLLOW LIVE TEXT COMMENTARY OF FRANCE V REPUBLIC OF IRELAND TONIGHT FROM 7PM ON FOOTBALL.CO.UK
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