France secured their FIFA World Cup™ spot in dramatic fashion with a thrilling 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland at the Stade de France.
Giovanni Trapattoni's visitors, beaten 1-0 in Dublin last Saturday in the first leg of their play-off, had taken a shock lead in the 32nd minute through Robbie Keane and the Irish were unlucky not to score more before forcing the match to extra time. In the first additional 15-minute spell, France had an appeal for a penalty correctly turned down after striker Nicolas Anelka tumbled to the turf under pressure in the eighth minute.
Five minutes later, William Gallas bundled the ball home to win the match for Les Bleus after being set up by Thierry Henry, who later admitted that he had handled in the build-up. The goal enabled France to qualify and avoid a repeat of their humiliating failure, at the hands of Bulgaria, to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup finals.
The Republic, especially captain Robbie Keane, had the lion's share of the chances in regulation time, and they will be kicking themselves having last qualified for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where they reached the Round of 16.
A clearly relieved French coach Raymond Domenech said France had had to scrap to the end. "It was hard, laborious and indeed miraculous," he told French television. "I was sure we would make it though. My forecast was 1-1!"
It was hard, laborious and indeed miraculous. I was sure we would make it though.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy saluted a "gallant Irish" team before praising his countrymen. "It's fabulous - we're really glad to get through. Qualification is important as it's a major event," Sarkozy told TF1.
Domenech was forced to reshuffle after the first leg victory in Dublin last Saturday after injuries to midfielder Jeremy Toulalan and central defender Eric Abidal. After just nine minutes, Abidal's pre-match replacement, Julien Escude, came off injured to be replaced by Sebastian Squillaci.
The unexpected turn of events would set the tone for what was, for them, a frustrating first half from which a more enterprising Republic team emerged with a 1-0 lead. While France looked dangerous in the opening stages, they went on to look exceedingly mediocre up against an astute Irish defence given plenty of protection by the assured Shay Given.
Damien Duff and Liam Lawrence had already shown their ability to carve openings in the French defence and it was Duff's cutback from deep on the left side of the French area that found Keane, who side-footed the ball first time to beat Hugo Lloris in the France goal. In the 39th minute, France striker Nicolas Anelka turned his marker nicely on the edge of the area but his shot was deflected by an Irish body and went for a corner.
A subdued Stade de France welcomed a more hopeful French team for the second half, but Ireland quickly stated their intent as Keane won a free kick on the left flank and Lawrence's kick found John O'Shea unmarked at the back post. However, after controlling the ball the Manchester United defender's shot was struck over the crossbar from four yards out.
France began exploiting Irish weaknesses on the right flank and a Henry free-kick was well turned away by Lawrence and eventually gathered by Given after Gourcuff had driven the ball back in. Just after the hour-mark, the Irish were given another golden opportunity, Duff racing through only for Lloris to block his effort.
Keane, one of the survivors of the 2002 tournament, was left frustrated after he missed a golden chance to put the Republic 2-0 up when he put the ball wide from a tight angle with only Lloris to beat. After struggling all night to overcome a packed Irish defence, France's late stroke of luck finally proved the visitors' downfall.