Stade de France, Paris
Although there is recognition that the task ahead of them in the Stade de France tomorrow is of mammoth proportions, the Irish squad and management are eager to stress that a win in Paris tomorrow is not out of the question.
There was no hint of anxiety in Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s tone as the veteran manager stressed the need for cool heads in tomorrow’s second leg playoff tie against France in Paris.
Trapattoni’s comments on the need for calm is a message that will be emphasised to his players right up until the end of the game on Wednesday. There is a particular need for Ireland to be cautious about tomorrow’s game following the noises coming from the French camp earlier this week.
The comments of French midfielder Lassana Diarra since Saturday’s game that, “France are saving their yellow cards for Wednesday” is a sign that Ireland will need to be psychologically focused on the task ahead. Irish players will need to deter opportunities to get involved in acts of revenge for whatever was said on the pitch after the first leg.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s statement firmly related to this possible situation. “I have said to the players, these games are for warm hearts and cool heads. We must play with cool heads, but warm hearts.
“With feet, we can score goals. If we keep cool heads, we can use our feet to score goals.”
Ireland captain Robbie Keane was also well aware of the potential danger of giving the situation too much thought and his views echoed that.
“As far as we are concerned, that’s gone. It happened after the game. Of course, every player’s reaction straight after would be, ‘I didn’t say this’ or whatever.
“But that’s just the way it is. It’s obviously put a bit of fuel to the fire. But we can’t be going into the game thinking about Diarra, or the comments he made. We have to concentrate on the job at hand, and we will certainly be doing that.”
Optimism rather than confidence was the main feeling being put across by the Ireland manager and captain. Both chose to focus on past performances, especially away results, to exhibit their reasons for such enthusiasm that Ireland can overturn the 1-0 deficit from the first leg.
Keane said: “This campaign has given us a lot of confidence and has instilled that into us because the performances, particularly away from home, has certainly been good. And that is something we can take in tomorrow.
“It has been a decent campaign, but it will mean nothing if we don’t produce tomorrow and I think we are in this campaign to be in this World Cup. Obviously tomorrow will decide that”.
Though his optimism is admirable, it could be said to be misplaced. No team has ever progressed to the World Cup through a playoff after losing the first leg and Giovanni Trapattoni did not merit the statistic with a response merely claiming that “our attitude” and “how we have showed we play until now” will get the team through this test.
Keane’s response was dignified to say the least in saying: “I didn’t know about that before now…. but I think if we don’t know as players what is at stake here, we have a problem”.
Not giving anything away, Trapattoni refused to name his starting line up for Wednesday evenings match. Though his comments hinted the same team may start when expressing his feelings “that all players deserved to play again” in is mind.
In what might as well have been Trapattoni’s final words to the players before tomorrow’s game he said: “We cannot lose our heads in this situation, we need to be calm, but I will not sit on the bench without trying everything.
“We can’t let the game finish and not get a result because I haven’t changed things. But we must not forget, in many, many finals in the World Cup or the Champions League, the very important games, there are not many goals, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0.
“In the very important games, teams do not score three, four or five goals. It’s very, very difficult. We still have 90 minutes to play. I have told the players they must believe we can do it and achieve this qualification.”
Though Trapattoni’s team remains unchanged, France coach has been forced into a change due to an injury to centre back Eric Abidal. It is expected for Sebastien Squillaci to come into his place into the team alongside William Gallas.