Ireland face France for World Cup spot

LONDON - France must get past Ireland to reach the 2010 World Cup finals after they were drawn together on Monday for next month's two-legged European play-offs.

Portugal, who scraped into the play-offs by winning their last three Group One fixtures to seal runners-up spot, face Bosnia, Euro 2004 champions Greece tackle Ukraine and Russia will play Slovenia.

Bosnia, runners-up to Spain in their qualifying group, are attempting to reach their first major finals while Slovenia are looking to repeat their feat of reaching Euro 2000.

France, the 1998 world champions, 2000 European champions and beaten World Cup finalists in 2006, will have the advantage of playing the second leg on home soil against an Ireland side coached by Giovanni Trapattoni.

While France, the highest ranked team in the playoffs at nine, will be favourites, the pressure will be on coach Raymond Domenech who came underfire during a qualifiying tournament in which they were outshone by group winners Serbia.

He will be wary of an Ireland side who went through a qualifying group containing world champions Italy and Bulgaria without losing a match.

"We know what we have to do," Domenech told RTL radio. "The goal was always to qualify for the World Cup, whoever we faced. We know Ireland. They're very much like England, they all play in the Premier League.

NO SURPRISES

"The France players know them well from having played either with or against them. There won't be any surprises. We know what's coming.

"They're a team who have not lost in qualifying, who drew with Italy in their last game after conceding a late goal. We know they're tough, but so are we."

Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney said he expected a tight tussle.

"I've spoken to the manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, he's quite relaxed about it," Delaney told Irish radio.

"We don't lose games on many goals, we don't win games on many goals. I wouldn't expect that pattern to change."

Portugal, Greece and Russia, the other seeded nations in a draw performed at FIFA headquarters in Zurich by midfielder Steven Pienaar of World Cup hosts South Africa, will have to play the second legs away.

"Russia are clear favourites in our two matches and I am worried about the conditions we will have in Russia," said Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek.

"But mainly I hope my players will be well prepared in the middle of November because this time the matches are decisive."

Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz said Bosnia would be tough opponents for his side.

"Reputation has no weight or significance in these circumstances," Queiroz told RTP TV channel. "We have to prepare well to play against an excellent side that has a very dangerous attack."

Queiroz's Bosnian counterpart Miroslav Blazevic conceded Portugal would be favourites but did not rule out an upset.

"To be honest, I think the Portuguese are favourites. But it is not always the favourites that win," he said.

The first legs take place on November 14 with the returns on November 18.


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