France coach Raymond Domenech hopes Saturday’s hard-fought 1-0 win in Ireland proves a turning point in persuading the moody French fans to finally get behind their team during Wednesday’s return leg of the World Cup playoff.
France has long endured a hostile relationship with its supporters, with the team regularly jeered during home games and Domenech in particular on the receiving end of constant criticism.
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Following its embarrassing performances at last year’s European Championship, where it failed to win a match, French football would be plunged into crisis if Ireland qualifies. To avoid such a peril, which would likely cost him his job, Domenech has urged the French to turn Stade de France into a fortress.
“We need the support of the fans from the first to the last minute,” Domenech said. “The fans have a real part to play.”
France’s traveling army of 6,000 fans made themselves heard at Croke Park, which didn’t go unnoticed.
“We heard them as if they were 100,000 strong. It was very pleasing to see them there among the mass of green,” Domenech said on a video on the French football federation’s Web site. “The players saw it, as they were all grouped together in one stand, and they made a lot of noise.”
Ireland last played at Stade de France five years ago during the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and turned it into a sea of green shirts and flags, outsinging the French and drowning out their feeble support.
French reports estimate that 25,000 Irish fans have tickets – nearly a third of the stadium’s capacity.
“It is not logical to have 25,000 Irish fans. We’re playing for a place in the World Cup finals,” France defender Patrice Evra said.
Ireland is trying not to miss out for the second straight time after failing to qualify in 2006.
France could pack the midfield and defend its slender lead or look for a quick goal that would leave the Irish needing to score twice. Domenech suggested France will attack from the opening whistle and put Ireland on the back foot.
“You have to play normally, our strong point is scoring goals. We have to cause them problems,” he said. “We shouldn’t forget who we are and what we are capable of doing.”
Domenech’s plans to field the same team have been undone by injury woes. Barcelona defender Eric Abidal (thigh) is out, meaning Domenech needs to find a replacement to play alongside William Gallas, while midfielders Jeremy Toulalan (groin) and Abou Diaby (calf) are also both out.
“We thought Jeremy Toulalan could recover, but it will be too tight for Wednesday. Abidal’s injury was a bit unexpected,” Domenech said.
Domenech overlooked veteran midfielder Patrick Vieira, and either Julien Escude or Sebastien Squillaci will partner Gallas.
Tempers frayed at Croke Park at the final whistle, when France midfielder Lassana Diarra was caught up in a shoving match with Richard Dunne after allegedly insulting his teammate Keith Andrews.
“I saw him (Diarra) walking towards me and I thought he was going to shake my hand,” Andrews said after Saturday’s match. “He made a remark – a disrespectful comment – and, to be fair, I lost my head a little.”
Diarra has denied insulting Andrews, but the Frenchman can expect the Irish to be even more fired up than usual.
However, Evra thinks Giovanni Trapattoni’s team doesn’t have enough quality.
“I’m not sure they are capable of scoring twice against us, but I know we are capable of keeping a clean sheet,” Evra said. “We are confident in a good sense, we’re not getting carried away.”