France 1-1 Republic of Ireland (agg 2-1)
‘Belief’ was the buzzword resounding around the emerald island in the aftermath of the first leg defeat to Les Blues.
Last Saturday, Chelsea’s Nicolas Anelka dampened the spirits of the vocal home crowd as he edged the French to a narrow 1-0 success.
Lassana Diarra—or ‘Lass’ as he is affectionately known as at the Bernabeu—ensured with his ill choice of words after the final whistle that Giovanni Trapattoni’s men would lack no motivation in the return tie.
Ireland boasts a proud nation of inhabitants, famous for rebelling against superior powers and refusing to submit to their suppressors.
The ‘Men in Green’ perform best when our backs are up against the wall.
Trapattoni opted to persevere with the same 11, choosing to persist with the more defensive Liam Lawrence on the right wing opposed to the flamboyant Aiden McGeady. Any critics suggesting the Italian would deploy a defensive strategy were soon dismissed.
Ireland arrived in the French capital and produced a steely performance while managing to add a dab of verve to the affair.
The travelling contingent made their presence felt in the Stade de France and it spurred on Robbie Keane and company, with the men bearing the Irish crest looking more like long distance runners than footballers on occasions.
The opening exchanges saw the visiting side deploy a tactic more akin to their oval-shaped brethren, playing territorial football opposed to possession football, as the pumped ‘up and unders’ towards Lloris’ goal.
However, Whelan and Andrews settled and helped find a gentle attacking rhythm to their teams approach play.
Damien Duff, who turned back the years with a sublime performance, continuously tormented Bacary Sagna on the left wing. Trapattoni had clearly instructed his players to test the aerial ability of the susceptible French back four—marshaled by Gallas—with some teasing crosses.
This air of vulnerability wasn’t helped when Domenech was forced to changed the bloodied Escudé after a mere nine minutes.
The phonetic sound of his replacement’s name will have sent immediate shivers down all of those clad in green: flashbacks of the Stadio Olimpico and Italy in 1990. But it wouldn’t be Squillaci who would ultimately break Irish hearts.
With 20 minutes gone, Ireland began to string their passes together, utilising possession and patiently building attack after attack. Lawrence produced some dangerous crosses which the French rearguard managed to repel.
Then Keane came close when a vital palm by Lloris denied the Irish skipper what seemed a certain goal. Unfortunately for the Lyon keeper, who was the best player on the night for Domenech, he couldn’t prevent Keane levelling the tie on 33 minutes.
A smart interchange between Duff and Kilbane unleashed the Fulham left winger deep into French territory. Duff’s smart cutback found Keane who had emancipated himself from the attentions of Gallas.
He stroked the ball into the right corner of the net to send the Irish army of fans into a state of deliria.
It was just reward for a stellar first half showing.
Two minutes after the interval, John O’Shea was afforded a fantastic opportunity to double the lead for the underdogs. With 30 minutes of normal time remaining, Ireland manufactured another opening.
Keane timed his pass perfectly as he slotted Duff clean through with only Lloris to beat. However a combination of defensive heroics by the Lyon keeper and Sagna scuppered Duff’s tame attempt.
Trapattoni was almost immediately left to rue this surrendered chance.
The home side promptly launched an offensive with a long ball defying Dunne and Given and O’Shea left to nullify the threat from Thierry Henry. Dunne will have been grateful that only a corner was a result of misjudgement.
Shortly after Duff’s spurned shot, Keane seemed destined to finally double his country’s lead. Yet despite rounding the keeper, the ball escaped the attentions of the skipper and trickled harmlessly out of play.
It proved the last meaningful attack by Trapattoni’s side as they began tire in body but not in spirit. The French remained camped inside the Irish half for the remainder of the 90 minutes as the game rumbled on into extra time.
Ireland were resolved to doggedly defending their goalmouth for the first period of extra time. The arrival of Florent Malouda and Sidney Govou had injected fresh impetus into the endeavours of Les Bleus.
In the 107th minute, for the first time in the game, Anelka streaked past his marker St Ledger and was met by the onrushing Given. Anelka tumbled to the turf while Given pleaded his innocence.
Stade de France erupted with cries for a penalty. The referee calmly instructed for a goal kick to be taken.
The football world applauded the courage of the Swedish referee, Martin Hansson. He refused to be bullied into decision by the riled French supporters. His performance on the night up was exceptional.
That was until five minutes later.
Unfortunately for Hanssonn, his night was undermined by the short-sightedness of his colleague and the unscrupulous actions of one of the greatest talents in football.
Two minutes before the teams changed ends and commenced the second period of the extra 30 minutes, Gallas controversially scored what would be the winner in the tie.
A lofted free kick found its way to Henry. The former Arsenal star controlled the ball elegantly with his hand before palming the ball towards his teammate Gallas, who subsequently bundled the ball past the enraged Given.
The protestations of Given and his compatriots were fruitless. The referee and his assistant had failed to spot the infringement and the goal stood.
Aiden McGeady’s arrival offered some hope to the Stade de France rising, but he was unable to conjure up a dramatic late winner and France secured their passage to South Africa.
The Irish squad struck forlorn figures as they trudged dejectedly to their loyal supporters offering their shirts as compensation for those who made the journey to Paris.
France: Lloris, Sagna, Gallas, Escude, Evra, Lassana Diarra, Alou Diarra, Gourcuff, Anelka, Gignac, Henry.
Republic of Ireland: Given, O’Shea, St. Ledger, Dunne, Kilbane, Lawrence, Whelan, Andrews, Duff, Doyle, Keane.
Man of the Match: Damien Duff
Lawrence sprayed the ball to the far post where O’Shea had arrived undetected. The full back cushioned the ball on his chest before floating a volley high over the bar when cutting the ball back to Kilbane looked like a more viable option.
Henry and Anelka looked dangerous on the counter attack but both failed to leave any real mark on the affair. Anelka had an effort easily gathered by the ever reliable Given.