SPORT|AFP – Irish eyes should be smiling ahead of the Republic’s World Cup playoff clash against France here on Wednesday despite the visitors trailing by a goal, according to team manager Giovanni Trapattoni.
“I’m confident, because in football every match is different. From the opponents to the circumstances, nothing’s ever the same,” Trapattoni told reporters here on Tuesday.
“I’ve told all my players to be confident. We can believe in ourselves.”
Statistics are firmly against the men from the Emerald Isle, who haven’t beaten France away since 1931 and, notably, haven’t beaten a top ranked team in official competition since a win over Turkey in qualifiers for Euro 1992.
But with a place in the World Cup at stake, it’s no surprise the Republic – aiming to qualify for the first time since 2002 when they made it to the second round – want to believe in a dream finale to their campaign.
While France coach Raymond Domenech says his charges are “impatient” to show their superiority, the Irish know they have everything to win.
“The pressure’s on the French,” said the Republic’s captain Robbie Keane. “They’re playing at home and the home fans will be expecting them to play well.
“We’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to win,” added the Spurs marksman, one of the few survivors from the 2002 vintage.
Trapattoni hopes to send out the same team that lost 1-0 at Croke Park in Dublin on Saturday, when a deflected shot from France striker Nicolas Anelka gave ‘Les Bleus’ a first leg advantage.
“Prior to yesterday (the final training session) I wanted to make some changes,” added the Italian.
“But I want all the same players to be given their chance again. They’ve all recovered and I’m sure they’ll be ready to go another 90 minutes.”
An Irish goal at the Stade de France would change the landscape dramatically for Trapattoni’s men and add impetus to their bid for a place at the World Cup finals in South Africa next summer.
It needs not be said that a France goal would put Raymond Domenech’s France side firmly in the driving seat, and make qualifying even more of a formality.
France and Barcelona striker Thierry Henry warned they would not be sitting back and waiting for the Irish to attack.
“We’ve won over there but we still have a battle on our hands. And it won’t be easy because they’re a tenacious side,” he said.
“But when we start playing, it will be to win. We won’t be sitting back relying on the goal we have from the first leg.”
Despite that pledge many France players, including Henry, will be aware that the Stade de France, and its fans, have been fickle partners in the past.
Scotland striker James McFadden hushed the Stade scoring one of the goals of his career in a 1-0 win over France in September 2007.
And, it is only since a 1-1 draw with Romania earlier this year that France has lifted its game in the stadium.
Also looming is the dark memory, still talked about by many French football fans, of Les Bleus’ failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup after being eliminated by Bulgaria.
Needing only a draw from their final two qualifiers, Israel beat Gerard Houllier’s France 3-2 at home despite France leading 2-1 seven minutes from the end.
Bulgaria then pounced on a fluffed cross from second half substitute David Ginola to go up the field and score their second goal to hand them a 2-1 win thus eliminating France.
That exit came 16 years ago, almost to the day, on November 17. But Domenech insists it is not on his mind: “The past is the past.”
But in the back of his mind Domenech, whose wacky ways with the media has led to him having a love-hate relationship with the French public, must be praying his team of mostly world class players come good on the night.
Prompted that it could be his last match in charge, the Frenchman was his typical evasive self saying: “I’m not wavering from what my job is, which is to prepare the players for the match – not for before the match or after the match.”