Richard Dunne has warned France not to underestimate the Republic of Ireland as they attempt to reach the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.

Raymond Domenech's side head for Dublin today for Saturday's play-off first leg at Croke Park ahead of the return in Paris next Wednesday. They will do so under intense pressure to belatedly complete their qualification mission after finishing second to Serbia in Group 7, much to the annoyance of their fans.

But they will find themselves pitched into battle with an Ireland team buoyed by running holders Italy close in Group 8 and intent on claiming the ticket to South Africa for themselves. Star-studded France may be overwhelming favourites in the eyes of most onlookers, but that is not a view which is being countenanced by Republic manager Giovanni Trapattoni or his players.

Dunne said: "There's no doubt France will be the favourites in everyone else's but our eyes. If they underestimate us, if they come to Croke Park and think they are going to be allowed to just pass the ball around the pitch and walk their way to South Africa. If all they know about us is that fighting spirit, well then we will have to come out fighting."

In some ways the two-legged tie represents a clash of cultures; the elegant individualism of Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Karim Benzema and the undying commitment, passion and organisation of Trapattoni's side. And asked to counter the French perception of the Irish armoury boasting little more than fighting spirit and Croke Park at full volume, Dunne said with a smile: "That's about it."

We have got the belief. We believe there's nobody in the world who can match us for work-rate and effort and fighting spirit and Croke Park,

Republic of Ireland defender Richard Dunne.

He added: "We have got the belief. Obviously France have all the flair and all the skill and everything. But we believe there's nobody in the world who can match us for work-rate and effort and fighting spirit and Croke Park.

"That's us, that's the way we are. We have the likes of Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, but if you look at the squad as a whole, we are a tough team to beat and that's basically down to the team spirit and the attitude of the players when we go onto the pitch."

However, the current Ireland team is more than just national pride and hard work, and that is the legacy of Trapattoni's 18 months at the helm. The 70-year-old Italian has made them difficult to beat - they did not lose any of their 10 qualifiers - but his influence extends further.

Dunne said: "He is great. Every game we come over for, he tells us what's going to happen, how we are going to win the game and what we have to do. "So far, he has been right on every occasion. We have not had any setbacks in the group stage.

"He was saying the other day 'Just listen to me, believe, make sure you understand that we are going to qualify', so just in our own heads from now on is 'We are going to qualify and that's it'. If anyone tries to stop us or tell us no, we just have to go out and prove it."

Trapattoni's approach has not received universal praise, but has proved hugely effective. At 30, Dunne knows his chances of going to a FIFA World Cup are receding, but he believes the strides which have been taken under the new manager deserve to be rewarded.

Asked if this could be his last chance, he said: "Yes, I would say so probably. But even if it's not, it's the chance to play in a World Cup. It's huge and I am really, really desperate to get there, and there are a few others who are probably in the same situation as me.

"I just think the way the whole campaign has gone, it would be a shame if we don't qualify. We have had our critics along the way for our style of play, but we have been strong and determined and believed in ourselves, and if we can just keep doing that, we will have fully deserved to qualify."