Neither manager were giving much away at their pre-match press coferences earlier today. The emphasis from both camps stressed the need to come out on top of this two legged tie.
An overcrowded conference room in Malahide was the venue for Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s final public message before tomorrows first leg at Croke Park. Speaking collectively about himself and his squad he stressed the need “to play and have a cool head” and aim for the “same performance and spirit” displayed in the group stage. The Ireland manager continued “only with this mentality can we can play in balance with the French”.
Trapattoni then continued his trend of naming his starting team a day before the game by announcing the starting eleven to line up in Croke Park on Saturday afternoon. John O’Shea comes back into the starting team at right back, as do Glen Whelan and Keith Andrews who will continue their partnership in midfield.
Kevin Doyle will join Robbie Keane up front, while the only position for Saturday afternoons team left unnamed is the right wing with the Irish manager yet to decide whether he will deploy Aidan McGeady or Liam Lawrence.
When questioned about his reasoning behind possibly picking McGeady in an attempt to stifle the attacking threat of French full-back Patrice Evra he responded “that is an option but it is also important for the last thirty minutes… Sanga and Evra, will they be tired or no? There is no doubt and that is the balance we need”.
Trapattoni is probably the most experienced manager that has come to our shores and it is reassuring to hear him speak about the importance of the match not only in an Irish context but with relevance to his career and past experiences. The veteran said “what happened in the past is never enough for me, everything I have done is a step in my life.
“It has allowed me travel the world, Germany, Portugal and now Ireland and get a feel of what international football means”. He continued, “changing nation and having to adapt to a new language, new habits, new attitude in terms of players attitude. This is a great result which is equal to winning a cup or a scudetto”.
The final message to be stressed at Friday’s press conference revolved around the discipline and aggressive tactics that Irish teams of the past have appeared to employ. “I have never sent out my player to, (Trapattoni hits a clinched fist into the palm of his hand)”, struggling to find words to describe his ideology, he finished and settled on a broken sentence, “aggressive not foul”.
The air of calm at the Irish press conference was surpassed by the mood at the French equivalent of Friday evening. After only touching down in Ireland an hour previous, French manager Raymond Domenech and captain Thierry Henry fielded questions to the media in regards to the upcoming challenge.
The main concerns from the French media related to the likely absence of Lyon midfield playmaker Jeremy Toulalan from the team to face Ireland on Saturday. Though, the French manager, already without Franck Ribery, refused to rule out the player of the second leg claiming, “he is recovering from his (adductor muscle) injury”.
Seeming bemused by the whole situation, Thierry Henry tried to hide his snigger at times, as some confusion arose as to who was meant to be fielding the questions. However, Domenech was very quick to give his opinion on the comments coming from the Irish camp in the week that has past.
“That is not of my concern, I have to prepare the team for the match tomorrow, in fact I have long stopped listening to the press as otherwise I would have probably killed myself”.
Not liking to “talk too much before a game”, Henry spoke to the University Observer about whether there could be a special moment over the course of the two games that could be the deciding factor of which team is going to South Africa.
Playing down the importance of his stunning strike at Lansdowne Road in 2005, Henry said, “I was maybe the difference on the scoreboard, but that game we should have played as a team. Maybe it was not one of the best games you could have seen, but we came back home with the three points.
“As always, it doesn’t matter who scores. I did here, but that was four years ago, so it is quite a long time ago. I don’t know what is going to happen but in these kind of games, always small details can make things happen and change the course of a game.
“Whoever it can be, that will do for me.”
Ireland take on France at Croke Park on Saturday evening. Kick off is at 20:00 hours Irish time.