PARIS (AFP) - Three years ago France beat Portugal in the World Cup semi-final - on Wednesday both could fail to even reach the 2010 finals as they take narrow leads into their play-off second leg clashes.
France, champions in 1998, hold a 1-0 lead over the Republic of Ireland while Portugal hold the same advantage over Bosnia Hercegovina though the French unlike the Portuguese have the added advantage of it being an away goal.
The other two play-offs see Euro 2008 semi-finalists Russia also looking a bit shaky as they take a 2-1 lead to Slovenia while Ukraine - who made the 2006 finals - have everything to play for when they host Euro 2004 champions Greece in Donetsk as they are tied at 0-0. Related article: No room for panic, says Russia's Hiddink
The French-Irish clash looks likely to be a high octane affair after the angry exchanges between rival players at the end of the match in Dublin on Saturday provoked by derogatory remarks by Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra. Related article: France eye World Cup slot
"They were disrespectful and anti-Irish," commented Irish midfielder Keith Andrews.
"Everyone knows what he (Diarra) said but we don't need those to get ourselves motivated for the match."
The Irish, though, face a mountain of a task to overcome the deficit as they have not beaten a top-ranked side away from home since beating Turkey 3-1 in the Euro '92 qualifiers - which they didn't reach and to be fair the Turks really became a top side from 2000 onwards.
However, their veteran Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni used another statistic to add evidence to his belief that the men in green can turn it around.
"I have reminded my players that we scored in every one of our away matches in the qualifiers save against Montenegro (including world champions Italy) - a group that was of a better quality than that of France," said the former Italy national coach. Related article: Italians playing for World Cup places
"Winning 1-0 may be enough as then it goes to extra-time and then penalties," he added.
His France counterpart Raymond Domenech was frank about where he saw the situation lying.
"We have to play, because for me the match begins at 0-0," said the sphinx-like coach, who guided France to the 2006 final but has rarely won over either the fans or the press.
"Our strong point is our ability to score goals. There is no point thinking they are coming here to pose us problems. We have to take the match by the scruff of the neck. Playing to win is the best fashion of doing it."
Bosnia and Portugal's match should be an interesting encounter given that Bosnian coach Miroslav Blazevic ever the eccentric handler - though it worked wonders with Croatia in the 1998 finals when he took them to the semi-finals where they led France before losing 2-1 - has promised some savage entertainment.
"In the next few days I will have to create such an atmosphere among the players so they attack the Portuguese like hungry wolves," said the 74-year-old in an interview with the Dnevni Avaz daily. Related article: Bosnia coach says squad will be 'hungry wolves'
The Bosnians can take great heart that not only will there be no Cristiano Ronaldo as in the first leg but that they hit the woodwork three times in the first leg.
With this in mind the Portuguese are convinced they should go all out in attack to get what could be a crucial away goal. Related article: Shevchenko warns Ukraine of tough battle
"When it is necessary to defend, we have to do it well, but we will attack when the possibility arises," said Chelsea's veteran defender Ricardo Carvalho, who was a member of the side that reached the 2006 World Cup semi-finals.
"We are not going to play defensively, because if we score, that will complicate things for them."
Coach Guus Hiddink is optimistic Russia will make it to the 2010 World Cup despite play-off rivals Slovenia grabbing an away goal.
Ahead of Wednesday's second leg in Maribor Hiddink said there was no cause for panic.
"Of course, I was dissappointed with the result," the Dutchman said.
"We were leading 2-0 and had plenty of chances to increase our advantage.
"But I thing there's no need to go from one extreme to another. We did not lose the first match we won it! And there's no room for panic."
Ukraine star Andrei Shevchenko has warned his teammates to be prepared for a tough battle against Greece.
"We and Greece have a 50-50 chance to reach next year's finals," Shevchenko said.
"In Athens we played very good in defence and, I believe, we could repeat such a performance in Donetsk."
|Coach: R. Domenech|
for J. Escudé 9'
for A. Gignac 56'
for Y. Gourcuff 87'
|Juan: Inter must maintain hunger|
|Van Gaal: Three month comment was stupid|
|Bielsa proud to equal Marseille record|
|Redknapp: No one could do better than me|
|Manolas: I rejected Juve and Arsenal for Roma|
|Winning without Costa delights Mourinho|
|Mannone vows to repay fans|
|Balotelli ´doing his best´, insists Rodgers|
|Marseille feeling streak fatigue|
|Fournier hails substitutes´ influence|
|Copa Sudamericana Preview: River wary of Libertad|
|Colombian Primera A Review: Santa Fe stay top, Medellin lose|
|Valencia must bounce back - Nuno|
|Ecuadorian Primera A Review: Blanco inspires Barcelona|
|Liga del Futbol Profesional Boliviano Review: Wilstermann go top, Blooming slip up|
|MLS Review: Sounders deny Galaxy, Donovan|
|Venezuelan Primera Division Review: Caracas continue rise, Tachira stumble|
|Uruguayan Primera Division Review: Alonso´s brace inspires rampaging Nacional|
|Inter behind Mazzarri - Ausilio|
|Peruvian Primera Division Review: Alianza Lima leapfrog Union Comercio|
|Benitez happy with second half|
|Costa Rican Primera Division Review: Alajuelense jump clear, Saprissa win fifth straight|
|Liga MX Review: Leon continue resurgence|
|Brazilian Serie A Review: Cruzeiro, Sao Paulo bounce back|
|Hart: Aguero ´useless´ in training|
|Inter´s season starts now - Hernanes|
|Lopez rues lack of concentration|
|Serie A Review: Honda inspires Milan, Inter held|
|Ligue 1 Review: Marseille extend lead, Lyon put five past Montpellier|
|Inter 2 Napoli 2: Hernanes rescues a point|
|Maran appointed new Chievo boss|
|Bundesliga Review: Hoffenheim still unbeaten, Paderborn back to winning ways|
|Hughes ´disappointed´ by Moses criticism|
|Eredivisie Review: Cambuur fight back to share derby spoils, Go Ahead win thriller|
|Furious Monk urges Moses punishment|
|Taarabt not fit to play football - Redknapp|
|Rodgers relieved with Liverpool victory|
|Monk blasts referee over Stoke penalty|
|Defeat an ´absolute injustice´ for Redknapp|
|CSL Review: Evergrande close in on title, Harbin Yiteng relegated|
|Indian Super League Review: Moritz inspires Mumbai in Pune pummelling|
|Stoke City 2 Swansea City 1: Substitute Walters heads home winner|
|Thai Premier League Review: Chonburi close gap on leaders Buriram|
|Inzaghi seeking defensive improvements|
|Porto v Athletic Bilbao: Lopetegui expecting tough test|
|BATE v Shakhtar Donetsk: Visitors in upbeat mood ahead of UEFA Champions League test|
|Schalke v Sporting Lisbon: Draxler warns more is to come|
|Chelsea v Maribor: Mourinho to resist urge to chop and change|
|Gerrard ´in shock´ after Liverpool snatch late win|
|Verona 1 Milan 3: Honda brace seals victory|
|QPR 2 Liverpool 3: Caulker own goal gives visitors victory after late drama|
|Simeone praises Griezmann impact|
|Chievo sack Corini|
|Barcelona v Ajax: Mascherano calls for focus|
|APOEL v Paris Saint-Germain: Visitors battling injury crisis|
|Ribery hoping to get back to best|
|LFP to investigate Nice-Bastia clash|
|Allardyce lauds front two|
|Roma v Bayern Munich: Destro raring to go|
|Atletico Madrid 2 Espanyol 0: Simeone´s men take the points|
|CSKA Moscow v Manchester City: Pellegrini welcomes pressure|
|Winger is a Tad special - Koeman|
|Ancelotti dismisses Sterling speculation|
|K.League Review: Jeonbuk go seven points clear at top|
|Poyet expects response after eight-goal thrashing|
|Oscar coming of age at Chelsea|
|Warnock eyes brighter future for Zaha|
|Garcia relishing Bayern clash|
|Martinez commends Alcaraz|
|Pellegrini sounds Aguero warning to opposition|
|A-League Review: Villa rescues City again, Perth Glory top after late drama|
|MLS Review: DC wrap up Eastern Conference|
|Vidal slams media ´lies´|
|CONCACAF Champions League Preview: Porter wants Portland focus|
|Roma refocus on Bayern|
|Clean sheet pleases Di Matteo|
|Durm withdraws with thigh strain|
|We deserved more - Valverde|
|La Liga Review: Barca, Real win easily|
|Pelle: We had to keep going|
|Draw changes nothing - Allegri|
|Serie A Review: Juve drop points, Roma close the gap|
|Luis Enrique salutes ´wonderful´ Eibar|
|Eredivisie Review: PSV extend lead, Ajax held by unbeaten Twente|
|Ligue 1 Review: Monaco beat Evian, Saint-Etienne go fourth|
|Sassuolo 1 Juventus 1: Juve drop points for first time|
|Bundesliga Review: Di Matteo makes winning start, Dortmund lose again|
|League One Review: Robins unhappy at Scunthorpe draw as top two march on|
|Arabian Gulf League Review: Al Nasr and Al Ahli close gap at top|
|Barcelona 3 Eibar 0: Messi edges closer to record in routine triumph|
|Erbil 0 Al Qadsia 0 (aet, 2-4 on penalties): Al Khaldi the hero as Kuwaitis win shoot-out|
|Scottish Premiership Review: Five-star Celtic dispatch Ross County, Dundee United stay second|
|Pearson bemoans St James´ Park setback|
|Newcastle still need to improve, says Pardew|
|Warnock rues failure to make Delaney switch|
|Stunning Sneijder brace gives Gala derby day glory|
|Klopp slams naive Dortmund|
|Ancelotti fires warning to Real rivals|
|Wenger laments ´lack of focus´|
|Mourinho questions Spain over Costa fitness|
|We have to improve - Lambert|
|Poyet rues ´embarrassing´ Sunderland display|
|Bruce content with Arsenal draw|
|´Phenomenal´ Barkley leaves Martinez in awe|
|Dyche rues lack of cutting edge|
|Koeman ´in shock´ after eight-goal romp|
|Allardyce thrilled with early birthday present|
|Championship Review: New managers impress, Forest finally beaten|
|Guardiola impressed with Bayern display|
|Newcastle United 1 Leicester City 0: Obertan gives hosts first league win|
|Arsenal 2 Hull City 2: Welbeck rescues draw in Cup final repeat|
|Everton 3 Aston Villa 0: First home win of the season for Martinez´s men|
|Southampton 8 Sunderland 0: Hosts run riot against Poyet´s beleaguered side|
|Crystal Palace 1 Chelsea 2: Leaders prevail as both teams see red|
|Levante 0 Real Madrid 5: Ronaldo stars again in comfortable win|
|Burnley 1 West Ham 3: Sakho continues rich vein of form|
|Key moments went against Spurs, says Pochettino|
|Cologne 2 Borussia Dortmund 1: Klopp´s side beaten again|
|Pellegrini hails Man City collective|
|Bayern Munich 6 Werder Bremen 0: Champions run riot at Allianz Arena|
|West Brom v Manchester United: Van Gaal wary of Hawthorns trip|
|Inter hungry for victory - Mazzarri|
|Newcastle v Leicester delayed due to loose screen|
|Manchester City 4 Tottenham 1: Aguero inspires champions with four-goal salvo|
|J.League Review: Twist in title race as Urawa lose again|
|Positive mentality pleases Benitez|
|Espanyol must match Atletico´s energy - Stuani|
|Sheffield United: No Evans contract offer|
|Mandanda committed to Marseille|
|A-League Review: Sydney win thrilling derby, Phoenix fight back|
|Sigurdsson aims to cap memorable week|
|Hughes eyes Crouch stay|
|De Boer not interested in Netherlands role|
|Newcastle have enough leaders - Pardew|
|Walcott happy to be patient|
|Portland Timbers 0 Real Salt Lake 0: Rimando thwarts the hosts|
|Bradley shrugs off Klinsmann comments|
|Baptista urges Real to sign Silva|
|Gargano to miss a month|
|Cavani unlucky to see red - Maxwell|
|Central defence costing Tottenham - Waddle|
|United warned off Shawcross|
|Millwall to commemorate WWI with special kit|
|Koscielny avoids surgery, to miss Hull clash|
|Irvine warns suitors over Berahino|
|´No bad blood´ - Djordjevic|
|Mourinho: Chelsea ´unstable´ last season|