Ireland Football: France at Croke Park, tonight!

Anita and I are excited about tonight’s matchup between the Republic of Ireland and France, in the second round of World Cup 2010 qualification. We’d like to help you catch up with the Irish team’s exploits this year.

Ireland began the first round of qualification more than one year ago, and amassed an impressive record — with zero losses — to October 2009. At that point, they were virtually guaranteed second place in UEFA Group 8, just behind Italy, and surviving the first round.

On 10 October 2009, Italy traveled to Croke Park in Dublin. Ireland was eager to see the magnificent Italian national team, and of course, Irish sports fans love being the underdogs. Beating Italy would mean that the Irish could win the Group and automatically qualify for the Cup.

To add yet more drama, Ireland’s new manager was (and still is) Giovanni Trapattoni, the most successful coach in the history of Italian pro-clubs.

I found the match on TV in the second half, and then witnessed the most exciting football I’ve ever watched live. The score was 1-1 in the 85th minute, with little more than five minutes to go. It would be a respectable result for Ireland against the skill and depth of the Italians.

Two minutes later, Ireland scored on a gutsy, diving header. Croke Park was a storm of crying, cheering Ireland fans. The team itself was shot with energy, knowing that they had only to resist the Italian offense for five or six minutes to win rare soccer glory.

It was not to be; there are many reasons why Italy is the world champion. I saw a few of them on my television screen, in the very last minute of regulation play. Italy’s forwards picked apart Ireland’s midfield defense and gracefully, but almost casually, passed the ball into the box and placed it in Ireland’s net.

Still, Ireland ‘won’ a draw and easily secured second place in the Group. They would continue to the second round, a great result for a small European country. After the Italy game, they awaited the seedings for the second round — and hoped not to draw France.

They did draw France.

There’s a controversy regarding the second round seeding that I don’t fully comprehend. The problem seems to be that FIFA, the governing body, first said that they would seed the matches randomly, but then used the international rankings of each team to determine who would play whom. (Sports Illustrated called it “special treatment”.) That means lowly Ireland is playing the Gallic powerhouse for qualification to the World Cup.

The format for the second round is two-legged tie: each team of a pair plays one home match and the aggregate score determines the winner between the two. That winner goes to South Africa in July of next year.

The first of the Ireland-France matches is tonight, in Croke Park. The game against Italy shows that the venue gives a real home-field advantage, especially against better-ranked teams.

Here’s how The Irish Times described it, yesterday:

The French are expecting a fight. As the golf buggies chugged past and the wind whistled through the trees outside the marquee where more than 100 journalists had intruded on the peace, four players took turns to riff on the same theme. The Irish will bring their team spirit, their tenacity, their fight and their 80,000 hollering fans. The French will bring better players.

As for Ireland’s hopes? Here’s a Times analyst:

I would happily take 0-0 now, a clean sheet, keep the tie alive, and then let them cope with the pressure of a disgruntled crowd in Paris. And I think we can get a draw tonight. Sneak a goal in Paris on Wednesday and, well, you’d never know.

Ireland’s assistant manager also wishes for a nil-nil draw, and explains why. The second match will be just four days later. If you’d like to read more, here are some recent articles from The Irish Times:

  • Trapattoni still deciding who to play
  • Is France’s manager their greatest weakness? Irish say no; but French continue to say yes!
  • An amusing prediction of what will happen if Ireland qualifies and an eloquent requirement for that to happen: “Logic needs to be turned on its head tonight and again on Wednesday evening in Paris. That defiance of what makes sense has always been the source of Ireland’s lion-hearted, improbable nights of international football success.”
  • Player-by-Player overviews: for Ireland and for France
  • A silly bunch of quotes about today’s match

8 Comments to “Ireland Football: France at Croke Park, tonight!”

  1. Will said...
    14 November 2009

    I’d like to make known, before the start of this playoff, that I have divided loyalties. I enjoyed ROI football while I lived there, and I was delighted with their performance in October. But for my football in Luxembourg, I prefer to look west, which gives me some sentiment for France.

  2. Stu Francis said...
    16 November 2009

    Wouldn’t you prefer to look East? I suppose it depends on where you were standing.


  3. ethan coy said...
    18 November 2009

    Ireland is going to won HahahaHAHAHAHAha XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXXxXXxXXXXxXxxxXxXxXxXxXXxXXxXXxXxX I LOVE IRELAND HA HA HA

  4. AARON said...
    18 November 2009


  5. Andy Innafite said...
    19 November 2009

    Jeepers creepers boys! Calm down. You lost.

  6. Will said...
    19 November 2009

    I disagree, Andy. It’s upsetting. Here’s how the NYT reported France’s winning goal:

    The Swedish referee Martin Hansson failed to call a hand ball.
    “I will be honest, it was a hand ball,” Henry said, according to The Associated Press. “But I’m not the ref.”
    Raymond Domenech, France’s coach, did not try to argue against replays that showed the hand ball.

  7. Doug said...
    19 November 2009

    I hope they do play a rematch, but I doubt that FIFA will do it – sadly.

  8. Andy Innafite said...
    27 November 2009

    Sorry Will, but with what do you disagree with?