Croke Park intensity won't bother Escude
The intense atmosphere at Croke Park won't bother France defender Julien Escude when he and his teammates face Ireland on Saturday in the first leg of the World Cup playoffs. The two teams are playing for a spot at next year's World Cup in South Africa, with the second leg at Stade de France four days later. "The fans can sing but they won't stop us playing well," Escude said Tuesday of the 82,000 boisterous fans expected to watch the match. France has struggled to defend corners and free kicks over the last two years, but Escude said the French defense will hold. "We have to cope with the long balls that will come at us. We can't think twice either about getting stuck in," Escude said at France's training camp, adding that the 1998 world champions have enough quality to score a crucial away goal to take home. France has started to rediscover its attacking touch recently, scoring three goals against Austria in its final qualifying match last month. Even though it was a meaningless result because Serbia had already won Group 7 - and France had already sealed its playoff berth - it gave the players fresh confidence and eight goals in two games after beating the Faeroe Islands 5-0. "We're not just going to defend, to keep a clean sheet. You have to attack, that's our game. We represent the French team so we have to be ambitious," Escude said. "We know about Ireland's fighting spirit, and the special atmosphere that will be in the stadium, but to get to the World Cup we have to get through these playoffs." France has reached the final of two of the last three World Cups, winning on home soil in 1998 and losing to Italy on penalty kicks in 2006. But an unconvincing qualifying campaign saw France lose in Austria 3-1 and drop points when it drew against Romania home and away. A loss in Dublin on Saturday would increase the pressure on coach Raymond Domenech, who has endured a tense relationship with fans and is regularly jeered at home games. France, the 2000 European champion, also faces the prospect of missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1994. "We aware of what's at stake, but we shouldn't put too much pressure on ourselves. I think we've all played matches at the very highest level (for our clubs)," said Escude, who plays for Spanish club Sevilla. "But you have to keep it in the back of your mind that we could end up on the sidelines if we don't do our job properly, if we don't give our all, if we don't give our maximum."