Irish hearts broken in Paris
Republic of Ireland's dreams of reaching the World Cup finals were shattered after a controversial 1-1 extra-time draw with France.
By Peter Fraser
Last Updated: 20/11/09 8:12am
Republic of Ireland's dreams of reaching the 2010 World Cup finals were shattered after they suffered a cruel and controversial 1-1 extra-time draw with France in Paris to lose their play-off on aggregate.
Robbie Keane had erased Les Bleus' one-goal advantage from the opening meeting in the first half, but William Gallas struck in contentious circumstances in extra-time after Thierry Henry had handled in the build-up to book a place in South Africa.
What was already a colossal fixture in terms of importance had been given plenty of additional stirring from the first leg, which 1998 world champions France won thanks to Nicolas Anelka's deflected 72nd minute strike at Croke Park.
Ugly scenes involving Ireland's Keith Andrews and France's Lassana Diarra after the final whistle had overshadowed the match in Dublin and suggested Giovanni Trapattoni's visiting team arrived at a packed Stade de France with additional intent.
But it was a tense opening as Ireland answered Trapattoni's calls for 'cool heads' and dictated the first half-hour, correcting the weekend's wastefulness in possession, to be rewarded when captain Keane converted Damien Duff's 33rd minute cutback.
Ireland finished the half with their noses deservedly in front on the night, with Raymond Domenech's France delivering the sort of turgid display which had been heavily criticised when they crashed out of Euro 2008 at the group stages.
The home side emerged after the interval with more intent, but it was Duff who had the best chance as he charged through and forced Hugo Lloris to demonstrate why he is beginning to carve a reputation as one of Europe's sharpest goalkeepers.
Neither side could find another goal in 90 minutes, but Gallas equalised from close range in the first half of extra-time to sneak a 2-1 aggregate win after France skipper Henry had avoided punishment when clearly controlling a free-kick with his hand.
Victory over the course of the tie spared France manager Raymond Domenech further abuse, although when the dust settles, his critics may be far from appeased.
Keane had been at pains to insist at Ireland's pre-match press conference at the Stade de France that the tie was far from over, and while his confidence was commendable, few outside the Irish camp were completely won over by his optimism.
But by the time the half-time whistle sounded, the men in green both on and off the pitch were starting to believe.
Republic keeper Shay Given was a virtual spectator for much of the half, and as the men in front of him grew in confidence, it was the visitors who started to make an impression.
Patrice Evra had already had to climb high to prevent Liam Lawrence from connecting with Duff's 18th minute cross and the Stoke midfielder, once again preferred to Aiden McGeady on the right, was in the thick of the action once again six minutes later.
He met Kevin Doyle's cross at the far post to head the ball down for Keane and only the vigilance of keeper Lloris, who rushed from his line to punch clear before the striker could pounce, spared France.
There was panic among the French defence once again with 26 minutes gone when Lawrence crossed from the right and Doyle glanced a header across the face of goal.
It was all very encouraging for the Irish, and their prayers were answered 13 minutes before the break.
Duff was gifted acres of space on the left to make his way to the goalline before looking up and picking out Keane with the perfect pass.
The striker gleefully side-footed the ball past Lloris and into the bottom corner to set France back on their heels and blow the tie wide open.
Domenech's side attempted to respond but their reaction was lukewarm, and the home crowd, having booed both their own manager and President Nicolas Sarkozy when their respective images appeared on the stadium's big screens, repeated the dose as the teams left the pitch at the break.
Their mood would have taken a significant turn for the worse had Ireland made the most of a glorious opportunity within two minutes of the restart.
Trapattoni and his players had spoken repeatedly about France's perceived weakness from set-pieces in the run-up to the tie, and they had been disappointed not to exploit it at Croke Park on Saturday.
But they very nearly did just that when Lawrence curled a 47th-minute free-kick to the far post where the unmarked O'Shea, perhaps astonished to be given so much time and space, controlled on his chest only to volley high over.
The French response improved, and Given was called upon to make his first real save with 54 minutes gone, but Anelka's long-range effort never troubled him.
As the home side pushed men forward, they became increasingly vulnerable, and Trapattoni's troops were presented with a gilt-edged opening with 61 minutes gone.
Lawrence's defence-splitting pass put Duff in on goal, but the winger was denied by the impressive Lloris as he pulled off yet another vital stop.
Anelka glanced a header wide at one end and Keane rounded Lloris but could not get in a shot at the other as the game became increasingly frantic.
Given had to claw away an Anelka cross deep into injury time, but Ireland more than deserved their extra 30 minutes.However, Ireland's luck deserted them 13 minutes into extra-time when Henry handled Florent Malouda's delivery before crossing for Gallas to score.
|France||Team Statistics||Republic of Ireland|
|0||1st Half Goals||1|
|3||Shots on Target||2|
|8||Shots off Target||4|