Lassana Diarra's low blow brings out Ireland's fighting spiritsource
What did the Frenchman say to the Irishman before they headed to the dressing rooms at full-time? Whatever it was, and ranks appear to have closed regarding the specifics, it represented a blow to the Republic of Ireland that felt every bit as low as Nicolas Anelka's wickedly deflected winning goal.
Giovanni Trapattoni, the Ireland manager, said Lassana Diarra's verbal attack on Keith Andrews, which precipitated a confrontation of a more physical nature with players from both teams forming a melee, was an "insult to the Irish people". "I cannot say the sentence," the Italian added. "It's very bad. You cannot insult all the people."
Ireland need no extra motivation for the trip to Paris on Wednesday, for the second leg of this World Cup play-off, but Diarra's apparent gracelessness in victory has ensured that the occasion will be heavily spiced. "I don't want to say exactly what he said," Andrews said, "but he knows what it was, which was a disrespectful comment and it was typical of him, to be honest, and the way that he was. I was hunkered down a little bit when the final whistle went and I saw him walking towards me and I thought he was going to shake my hand. But he made a remark and I lost my head a little bit.
"You don't expect that from a fellow professional. It's a massive two-legged tie, only halfway finished, so for someone to come out like that and say something was bitterly disappointing. But our lads are aware of it and we'll see what happens on Wednesday."
Andrews, who carried the midfield fight together with his sidekick Glenn Whelan, was asked whether he felt France had respect for Ireland. "To be honest, I don't know," he replied. "But if they didn't beforehand, they should do now. They were certainly put through their paces and we showed them what we have."
It is no secret what Ireland have. They have played more or less the same way in each qualifying tie under Trapattoni. They have discipline, spirit and commitment. They might not create too much but they generally give little away. On a pulsating night at Croke Park, they found their feet as the first half wore on and, although France played most of the football in the second half, Ireland could reflect on having enjoyed the better of the limited crop of chances.
Trapattoni is a manager who has played the percentages throughout his illustrious career and he would take a similar performance from his team in Paris, reasoning that it would give them the best chance of catching the break that they need. He is not likely to make changes to his line-up, nor his tactics. He simply hopes to have greater opportunities from set-pieces to expose what is perceived to be France's defensive weakness or, failing that, he hopes it could be his team that gets the fortuitous deflection. France will have to make a change at centre-back because of an injury to Eric Abidal, with Julien Escudé or Sébastien Squillaci likely to come in.
"We had a few ricochets off the goalkeeper which didn't go for us," said the captain, Robbie Keane, "and they get a deflection outside the box, it hits the inside of the post and goes in. In football you need luck and they certainly had that."
Questions remain about whether Trapattoni's approach is sufficiently flexible. He dismissed the possibly of adopting a slightly more adventurous game plan in France, where Ireland have not won since 1937; he cannot bear the thought of being caught on the counter-attack. "Maybe we take risks in the last minutes," he said. "This is a warm game for cold heads."
Trapattoni, though, can only work with what he has – few people think that he has failed to extract the maximum from his players – and the basis for Irish optimism comes from the encouraging form on their travels. The 1-1 draw in Italy was the highlight but in all five away fixtures in qualifying Group Eight, they held their own and avoided defeat. In all bar one, the 0-0 draw in Montenegro, they scored. Moreover, France conceded at home to Serbia, Romania and Austria on what can generously be described as isolated visiting attacks.
"Every time the ball went into their box, they looked like they were panicking," said the defender Richard Dunne. "We're probably going to have to play higher up the pitch and get a few more set-piece situations and take advantage of them. It's our belief that we can go there and win."
Irish football history is dotted with vital away results but they have tended to be gutsy draws. A performance and result for the ages is now required. "It's going to be a historic occasion if we can do it," said the goalkeeper Shay Given. "They will think they've gone through already but hopefully we'll have something to say about that."
Of course, it's all speculation, but if Diarra did make a comment about Irish people, then he needs to jog because this is exactly the sort of thing we've been working so hard to stamp out of football. I'm not sure his remarks should add as "fuel" to Ireland's performance on Wednesday though, they need to play with clear heads, and if they go into it seeking out Diarra and seeing the game as some sort of grudge match, then I can almost guarantee there'll be some rash tackles that could damage Ireland.
To be honest, I'm not at all optimistic about Ireland's chances of getting a result on Wednesday. Even if by some miracle they do grab a goal and don't concede, and it goes to penalties, I read that ROI have fared awfully in practice for penalties; Shay Given is their best penalty taker! And even though they were unlucky on Saturday not to get a draw, overall, France did look more threatening over long periods. Still, football is football and anything can happen. We shall see.
(mods, may we have a Republic of Ireland tag please? =) Unless I'm being a dosy cow and there already is one, in which case, ignore me ^_^ )