Match Preview - France v Republic of Ireland
It's win or bust for the Republic of Ireland this evening as they visit Paris knowing that only a first-ever win on French soil will be good enough for their World Cup dream to continue.
After a fiery first-leg, the Irish should be raring to go come kick-off and they will need to be at their best to overturn a 1-0 deficit. In the opening game, a spirited performance from Giovanni Trapattoni's men was not enough to deny the former World Champions victory, a deflected strike from Nicolas Anelka giving them a narrow lead heading into tonight's fixture.
Since the defeat, Irish midfielder Keith Andrews has accused Lassana Diarra of making an insulting comment which led to an on-pitch scuffle and a reported tunnel bust-up at the end of the game. This incident will undoubtedly add to the big occasion, and despite calls for the players to forget the whole episode, Irish passions will be running high as they look to book their place in FIFA's showpiece event.
With no new injuries to report, Ireland enter the game at full-strength. Last time out, Trapattoni opted for the more defensive-minded Liam Lawrence but with goals needed to ensure progression, he could give Celtic's exciting winger Aiden McGeady a starting berth. Another option for the Italian is Stephen Hunt, again a more attacking option than Lawrence, although he may be more use as an impact substitute should the Irish still need a goal late on.
Hosts France enter the game in pole position to reach South Africa next summer but must contend with injuries if they are to progress safely. Barcelona defender Eric Abidal picked up a thigh strain during Saturday's first-leg and has been ruled out of the return match. He is set to be replaced by either Julien Escude or Sebastien Squillaci who both ply their trade at Spanish high-flyers Sevilla.
Influential midfielder Jeremy Toulalan has failed to recover from a hamstring injury which kept him out of the weekend clash, so bar one defensive adjustment, Raymond Domenech's side should be unchanged.
The stats do not look good for the Irish. In European play-off qualifiers (World Cup, Euros), any side to have won away from home in the first leg has always gone on to qualify, 'Les Bleus' have not conceded a single goal in any of their last four matches against Ireland and the visitors have never won a competitive match in France (two defeats, one draw and only one goal scored).
On paper it looks to be mission impossible but with a reported 25,000 visiting supporters behind them, the scene is set for a dramatic night under the floodlights at the Stade de France.
FOLLOW LIVE TEXT COMMENTARY OF FRANCE v IRELAND FROM 7PM TONIGHT AT FOOTBALL.CO.UK
- Joe Strange
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