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Ireland face France this evening in an attempt to secure a place in the World Cup. They travel to the Stade de France, knowing that a victory is required to keep their hopes alive. At the time of writing they lead the game 1-0 after a goal by Robbie Keane.
By the time you read this article, though, the match may well have been decided. In all likelihood, despite the setback, France will have qualified for next summer’s tournament in South Africa.
But will manager Giovanni Trapattoni be regretting his decision to leave out Sunderland midfielder Andy Reid?
Reid has been in stunning form for Sunderland so far this season. Left out at the start of the campaign by manager Steve Bruce, the Irishman got a chance to stake his claim against Norwich City in the League Cup.
His performance was nothing short of magnificent; Reid scored twice as Sunderland claimed a 4-1 victory.
Reid was dropped to the bench a few days later when the Black Cats travelled to Stoke and lost 1-0. But he returned to the starting lineup against Hull and got on the score sheet again as Sunderland earned a 4-1 victory.
Since then Reid has arguably been Sunderland’s best player, firmly cemented his place in the starting lineup. His performances haven’t caught the eye of his national coach, however, as Trapattoni continues to extend a frosty shoulder to the Dublin-born midfielder since a disciplinary incident in 2008.
Reid, for his part, is trying not to dwell on his international exile.
"It's not on my mind," Reid insisted. "There's nothing I can do except do what I am doing and perform for Sunderland.
"My problem would be if I was chosen, and then I would have to perform on an international platform."
"Everyone wants to play in a World Cup, but it's not down to me."
It’s that last sentence that may be echoing in Irish ears tonight, as this is arguably the best chance Ireland have to qualify for the tournament. They are playing France, who are a highly ranked team, but have also been woeful during qualifying, and are coached by a man who should have been relieved of his duties on multiple occasions.
That Ireland have taken the lead in this game demonstrates that they have a real chance to qualify. But the question is: Would Andy Reid increase those chances?
The answer must be, undoubtedly, yes.
Ireland’s midfield consists of: Damien Duff, Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan, and Liam Lawrence. Reid is far superior to each of these players. There is no doubt that, if Trapattoni was picking on form, Reid would be the first name on the team sheet.
Reid has the quality that can tell in a game of this nature, he is able to create a moment of magic that unlocks a defence. His crossing is excellent and he is a real threat at set pieces. As the game draws on, these qualities could become invaluable to the Irish cause.
I really hope tonight doesn’t become a night of regrets for Ireland. I’ve got a soft spot for both of these teams, but the way FIFA have implemented this farcical ranking system in the playoff means I am whole-heartedly rooting for the underdogs in these ties, and there is no bigger scalp available than France.
If Ireland do go on to win this game and qualify for the World Cup next year, I hope that Trapattoni will reconsider his decision to steadfastly ignore the Sunderland resident. But I won’t hold my breath.