PARIS (AFP) - Former champions France flattered to deceive before securing their World Cup spot in controversial fashion here Wednesday after a dramatic 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland at the Stade de France.
Giovanni Trapattoni's visitors, beaten 1-0 in Dublin last Saturday, 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 15-minute spell France had an appeal for a penalty turned down after striker Nicolas Anelka tumbled to the turf under pressure.
Five minutes later France skipper Thierry Henry, who had moments earlier been denied a free kick after falling to the ground 25 yards out, won the match for the hosts when his angled pass amid a goalmouth scramble was met by the head of William Gallas.
Henry's pass, however, came after the ball appeared to make contact with his hand prompting a rash of immediate protests by the Irish players to referee Martin Hansson.
Hansson waved away appeals, allowing France to qualify and thus avoid a repeat of their humiliating failure, at the hands of Bulgaria, to qualify for the 1994 World Cup finals.
Gallas was non-committal on the goal circumstances.
"It all happened so quickly. I received the ball from Thierry. It happened so quickly that I couldn't see (if the ball hit his hand)."
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!"
Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger candidly told broadcaster TF1 that "France never found their game. We lacked cohesion.
"We went through thanks to a refereeing error - and thanks to poor Irish finishing!"
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.
Ireland, especially captain Keane, had the lion's share of the chances in regulation time, and they will be kicking themselves having last qualified for the 2002 World Cup where they got to the second round.
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.
While France looked dangerous in the opening stages, they went on to look exceedingly mediocre up against an astute Irish defence which gave keeper Shay Given plenty of protection.
Damian 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 which found Keane, who drove home 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.
But after controlling the ball the Manchester United defender's shot was struck over the crossbar from four yards out.
Anelka, seemingly the only motivated Frenchman on the park, provided France's first chance a minute later but his 20 yard effort shot was driven straight to Given.
Striker Andre Pierre Gignac then made way for Sidney Govou.
Just after the hour mark, Ireland 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 Ireland 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 Ireland's downfall.
|Coach: R. Domenech|
for J. Escudé 9'
for A. Gignac 56'
for Y. Gourcuff 87'
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