Germany 2006 runners-up France have been drawn against Republic of Ireland in the Europe Zone play-offs for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The French were the only one of the seeded teams to be drawn away in the first leg, to be played in Dublin on 14 November.
Republic of Ireland-France
Currently 34th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, Republic of Ireland impressed in finishing second behind Italy in Group 8, winning four and drawing six of their ten matches. An old hand when it comes to knockout matches, the Republic's Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni knows how to get the most out of a fiercely competitive side that is notoriously difficult to beat on its home turf. And in goalkeeper Shay Given, midfielder Damien Duff and goalscorer Robbie Keane, the Irish boast a formidable spine.
Ranked ninth, the highest of the eight teams in Monday's draw, France have struggled to live up to their reputation since contesting the final at Germany 2006. The departure of Zinedine Zidane left a huge void that has yet to be filled despite the emergence of world-class talents such as Yoann Gourcuff, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema. Following their disappointing showing at UEFA EURO 2008, Les Bleus made the worst possible start to their Group 7 campaign, losing 3-1 away to Austria. And though they then put together a run of six wins and three draws, they still finished a point shy of section winners Serbia.
The two sides are old acquaintances, having met 12 times in all. The French hold a slight advantage with five wins, four draws and three defeats. On their last meeting, a FIFA World Cup finals qualifier on 7 September 2005 in Dublin, Les Bleus skipper Thierry Henry all but secured their place in Germany with the only goal in a crucial 1-0 win.
Portugal have had to work hard just to reach the play-offs, and at one stage it looked as if the semi-finalists from three years ago were going to miss out altogether. Carlos Queiroz's men came good in the end, though, winning four and drawing one of their last five games to edge Sweden out of second place.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the undisputed leader of a Portuguese side that finally seems to have turned the page following the retirements of Luis Figo, capped 127 times in all, and Pauleta, the country's highest scorer with 47 goals.
Bosnia-Herzegovina lie 42nd in the Ranking and trailed 11 points behind runaway Group 5 winners Spain. In doing so, though, the Bosnians hit 25 goals, making them one of the most prolific sides in the Europe Zone. Taking maximum points off Belgium, Estonia and Armenia, the Balkan side finished with six wins, one draw and three defeats, collecting four more points than third-placed Turkey.
The two sides have never met before although the Portuguese will surely be keeping a close eye on the strike partnership formed by attacking midfielder Zvjezdan Misimovic and front man Edin Dzeko, who has proved his worth with German champions Wolfsburg. The one question mark hanging over Miroslav Blazevic's side is their ability to cope with the big occasion, a possible factor in their 5-2 defeat at home to Spain last week.
Beaten twice by eventual section winners Switzerland, Greece had to settle for second place in Group 2, something of a disappointment for a side that started out as pool favourites. The 2004 European champions, who have just one FIFA World Cup finals appearance to their name, at USA 1994, will be banking on star striker Theofanis Gekas, the scorer of four goals in a 5-2 defeat of Latvia, to fire them to South Africa 2010.
Ukraine, ranked just six places below the Greeks, staged a late charge in Group 6, beating Croatia to the line thanks in no small part to a 1-0 defeat of England in their penultimate outing.
The eastern Europeans have become play-off regulars, missing out on places at the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cup finals following two-legged defeats to the Croatians and Germany respectively. They atoned for those narrow failures four years ago, earning a place at Germany 2006 by beating Greece 2-1 on aggregate, a result they would happy to repeat to give the long-serving Andriy Shevchenko one last crack at a major competition.
The fourth and final play-off tie pits together two sides who just missed out on automatic qualification. Now a formidable outfit under the stewardship of Guus Hiddink, the Russians could have topped Group 4 had they beaten Germany in Moscow in their penultimate game but went down 1-0, an indication that they still have some work to do before becoming the finished article.
In an extremely tight Group 3, meanwhile, Slovenia, ranked 49th in the world, snatched second place but were still left to ponder what might have been after overcoming eventual section winners Slovakia home and away. Well organised at the back but sometimes lacking punch up front, the Slovenians were ultimately made to pay for a costly goalless draw at home to Czech Republic in late March and a 1-0 reverse in Northern Ireland just four days later.
The two sides have met on three occasions, two of those games coming in the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan qualification competition. Both sides are level with one win each and a draw.