Ireland cursing lady luck
Nicolas Anelka's deflected second-half goal earned France a 1-0 win to leave Ireland with a mountain to climb to reach the World Cup.
Last Updated: 14/11/09 10:36pm
Nicolas Anelka's deflected second-half goal earned France a 1-0 win at Croke Park to leave Republic of Ireland with a mountain to climb to reach the World Cup finals.
Giovanni Trapattoni's side fought valiantly in the first leg of their play-off encounter, but came unstuck on 72 minutes when Anelka's shot clattered off Sean St Ledger's legs and in off the post.
In a lively encounter, Andre-Pierre Gignac's perfectly placed lob was ruled out for offside on 11 minutes before Ireland should have taken a lead into half-time.
France keeper Hugo Lloris came out to deny Robbie Keane, but the ball broke for Liam Lawrence, whose shot at an open goal took a deflection on its way wide.
Ireland also carved out an opening at the start of the second half, but John O'Shea was unable to connect cleanly with his shot on the turn after Richard Dunne had helped on a corner.
Patrice Evra's penalty shout after Shay Given had come racing off his line was ignored on 69 minutes before France struck decisively three minutes later.
Anelka collected a pass from Yoann Gourcuff 25 yards from goal and the Chelsea striker's shot took a wicked deflection off St Ledger to leave Given with no chance.
Gignac spurned a golden opportunity to double the lead 10 minutes from time when he steered his shot out for a throw-in with the goal gaping after Given had come out to deny Anelka following a mistake from Kevin Kilbane.
Ireland did create one final chance to draw level, but Lloris was out smartly to thwart Glenn Whelan after substitute Leon Best and Keane had combined.
The full-time whistle saw both sets of players clash in the centre circle as Ireland head to France on Wednesday knowing they have it all to do to secure a trip to South Africa next summer.
If France had arrived in Dublin with any doubts about the determination of the Irish to pile on the misery for under-pressure coach Domenech, they were dispelled within seconds of their emergence at Croke Park.
Thierry Henry and his team-mates were greeted by a sea of green and a wall of noise, and the commitment off the field was more than matched by the efforts of the men on it.
Ireland knew they could not compete with the French for brilliant individual skill or blistering pace, and so they concentrated on what they do best - harrying, pressing and generally making a collective nuisance odf themselves.
Inevitably, the visitors held sway for much of the opening half-hour as the dangerous Anelka dropped deep on the right before either cutting inside or feeding marauding full-back Bacary Sagna, while Henry's searing speed and the brawn of central striker Gignac were constant threats.
But the doggedness of central defenders Dunne and St Ledger - coupled with that of the two men immediately in front of them, Keith Andrews and Whelan - proved enough to limit France's front three and impressive playmaker Gourcuff.
Of course, there were occasions when Domenech's men were simply too good for the Irish - Dunne was spared punishment for a major error of judgement when he allowed Eric Abidal's 11th-minute clearance to bounce over his head and Gignac gleefully lobbed Given, only for an offside flag to ruin his big moment.
Gourcuff warmed Given's hands with a well-struck 25th-minute snap-shot, while Gignac and Henry both fired wide as the Irish keeper enjoyed a relatively quiet first 45 minutes.
Opposite number Lloris was equally, if not more, under-employed, although he did not see the flag which had gone up for a foul by Kevin Doyle marginally before Keane ran on to his flick and forced a brave point-blank save before Lawrence's follow-up was deflected behind.
Keith Andrews curled a 31st-minute effort two feet wide, but the tie remained finely balanced as the two sets of players headed for their respective dressing rooms.
The French resumed at break-neck pace and very nearly carved the Republic open within seconds as Evra, Henry and Anelka combined to set up Sagna to cross, but O'Shea made sure it was he who made contact in the middle.
Ireland responded by instigating a goalmouth scramble which saw Keane and Kilbane both denied by blocks, although once again a flag came to France's rescue.
Cruel twist of fate
However, they took that as their cue to make a concerted push and after Given had made a regulation save to deny Gourcuff, he saw Lassana Diarra's 56th-minute thunderbolt fly inches wide and then plucked Anelka's drive out of the air within seconds.
Evra was devastated to have 69th-minute penalty appeals waved away after going down under Given's challenge as he pursued Gourcuff's through ball.
But the opening goal finally arrived with 18 minutes remaining as France made their dominance pay, although with the help of a cruel twist of fate.
It was Gourcuff who once again fashioned the opening, picking out Anelka on the edge of the box, and his shot deflected off St Ledger past the helpless Given and in via the upright.
Gignac should have made it 2-0 with 10 minutes remaining when he was presented with an open goal after Anelka had charged down Given's clearance, but he shot wastefully wide and out for a throw-in.
That might have proved costly had Lloris not produced a brave block to deny Whelan three minutes from time and then pushed away another dipping effort from the midfielder, but there was no way back for the home side.
The final whistle brought angry exchanges on the pitch, but it was the men in blue who were celebrating.
|Republic of Ireland||Team Statistics||France|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|3||Shots on Target||4|
|6||Shots off Target||7|