France wary of wounded Ireland

PARIS - France, tantalisingly close to a World Cup berth after a precious 1-0 win in Dublin, are wary of an Ireland backlash in the return leg of their play-off in Paris on Wednesday.

A heated exchange on the Croke Park pitch after Saturday's first leg and media reports of a pre-match rift in the France camp have contributed to a strained atmosphere in the build-up to the Stade de France showdown.

Both incidents were played down by a France side aware that Ireland are famous for their fighting spirit and not taking anything for granted.

"All that should not be turned into a polemic," France defender Patrice Evra told reporters. "The return leg will be tense enough without it. We have woken up Ireland's pride."

France midfielder Lassana Diarra was seen squabbling with Richard Dunne and Keith Andrews after full-time and Andrews was later quoted as saying he had been insulted by Diarra.

"It was nothing, it often happens at the end of a match," Diarra told reporters. "I didn't say anything (to Andrews). The Ireland players were frustrated, that's all."

France coach Raymond Domenech, who does not mind a dose of controversy, shrugged off suggestions he had an argument with captain Thierry Henry before Saturday's match, saying the pair just had a normal conversation.

His Ireland counterpart Giovanni Trapattoni will hope his side can keep the aggregate margin to a goal into the second half and bank on them taking whatever late chance may fall their way.

ABIDAL OUT

Intent not to dwell on a couple of good first-leg opportunities not taken, the Italian coach chose instead to focus on France's penetrable defence.

"France can concede a goal," Trapattoni told reporters. "They scored 18 in their group matches but they conceded nine and that's enough."

Trapattoni's hopes have been boosted by the news that France's Eric Abidal has pulled out injured, meaning Sebastien Squillaci should be paired with William Gallas in central defence.

However, Ireland's away record is not encouraging, having last upset a higher-ranked team in qualification 22 years ago when they beat Scotland 1-0 in Glasgow en route to their first international tournament at the 1988 European Championship.

Despite playing little in the way of attacking football during their unbeaten group campaign this time out, Ireland only failed to score in home and away games with Montenegro, the second of which was a final-day dead rubber.

"We have scored away too," Trapattoni said. "Not as many as them, sure, they have many strikers but it is possible."

The Irish boss wasted little time after Saturday's first leg to confirm that, injury permitting, he favoured starting the same eleven and with a clean bill of health, he looks likely to again name Liam Lawrence ahead of Aiden McGeady on the right wing.

Domenech, too, should pick roughly the same team and will pin many hopes on striker Nicolas Anelka, who scored the winner in the first leg and is determined to go to South Africa next year and play a World Cup for France for the first time.

Probable teams:

France: 1-Hugo Lloris; 2