Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Day of Reckoning

A quick note before I head off to the Stade de France for the second leg of the World Cup final play-off. I have to admit I'm being realistic about the chances for the Boys in Green. France are 65% there. If we play the same way we did in the second half on Saturday we can wave goodbye any chances of going to South Africa. The fact we haven't beaten a major nation away from home in competitive football in so long is also an ill boding. But on the upside, we have nothing to lose and a 1-0 lead is not impossible to overturn if we apply ourselves well.

France were not much better than us on Saturday and, for all their second-half possession, rarely troubled us. There is probably no home ground in international football with such a negligible determination on home advantage as the Stade de France - there are no visiting teams overawed by it and France regularly lose at home. There is also a huge over-confidence in the French public at the moment - former manager Michel Hidalgo told L'Équipe yesterday that he "wouldn't bet sixpence on Ireland". Such an attitude may not reign among the squad, but if the ugly behaviour of Lassana Diarra is anything to go by, there may be a hint of it. The French have a ridiculous sense that playing at the World Cup finals is their birthright. This despite the fact that they have failed to qualify for six finals in the past, as recently as 1994. And also despite the fact that, other than the Zidane-led revolt of 2006, they have brought nothing to any major finals since they won Euro 2000. It is this sense of complacency that could well undo France. And, of course, under Trapattoni, our best performances have been away from home.

But back to reality. There is a huge task ahead and conceding a goal first will probably finish us off. I have a worry that our lack of strength in depth (poor old Leon Best) and overly-negative tactics from the Italian will hamper us. We might have to settle for a valiant 0-0, that will put us out. But we'll still roar on the boys. It should be a great night, if not a great game.