Giovanni Trapattoni has sounded a World Cup rallying cry to his South African hopefuls after the playoff draw on Monday threw Ireland in against the superpower that is France.
The former World Cup winners will travel to Dublin for the first leg of next month’s playoffs on Saturday, November 14, with the second leg in Paris four days later.
France are red hot favorites in many eyes to put Ireland out of the competition, even though Trapattoni’s team were unbeaten in 10 Group Eight qualifiers.
But Trapattoni, who masterminded two draws with current champions Italy in the qualifying campaign, is upbeat despite the size of the challenge at hand.
“These games are like cup finals, we have come through the qualification group and are one of only five teams in Europe with an unbeaten record. That will give us self-belief going into these games,” said Trapattoni.
“We have done well so far but over the 180 minutes we must give something additional and we will have to be even more concentrated and focused than we have been until now.
“We have come out of a group containing the current world champions, Italy and have got positive results against them in both games.
“Now we face the 2006 World Cup finalists and our results to date will give us the conviction and the belief that we can get a result.”
Trapattoni’s assistant Liam Brady was also positive after the draw despite the fact that Thierry Henry’s side have scored eight goals in their last two games.
Brady claimed, “France were expected to win their group and they’ve got themselves into a situation now where we’re going to make sure that we give them problems. Let’s see if they can handle it.
“France have got an abundance of top players so that makes the tie quite daunting. But it hasn’t been a straightforward qualifying campaign for them, they’ve had their problems. We’ll be dissecting all the games they’ve played.”
Ireland and Middlesbrough defender Sean St. Ledger is adamant his team will use their Italian experience to good effect when they beat the former world champions next month.
St. Ledger scored the 87th minute goal that should have sealed a famous Irish win over Italy last week only to see the Republic concede a late equalizer to Gilardino.
Ireland can afford no such lack of concentration in the knock-out playoffs and St. Ledger admitted, “It’s a tough draw and probably not one we would have chosen.
“They have a team full of stars and some of the world’s best players, but they finished second in their group for a reason. I’m sure there will be a great atmosphere in both legs, but the support we will get at Croke Park will be brilliant and the noise our fans make will be invaluable.
“They should be two unbelievable games to play in. Of course, France are the favorites and I’m sure they will expect to win. But the Italy game gives us a lot of belief that we can do well against a really top side.
“As a nation and as a team, we always seem to rise to the occasion, so we can go into both legs with confidence. We are very organized under Mr. Trapattoni and we will have a game plan to beat them.”
Meanwhile, French coach Raymond Domenech was in confident mood after Monday’s draw.
Domenech’s France knocked Brian Kerr’s Ireland out of the last World Cup and the Blues boss clearly feels his team can do the same again.
“We know what we have to do. Whatever the opponent, I would have said exactly the same thing, the aim is to qualify for the World Cup,” Domenech said.
“It’s Ireland, and we just have to get on with it. The advantage is that we all know the team, it’s like another England. They all play in the English league and all the French players know them.
“We even have some players who play alongside them, so there won’t be too many surprises. We know what to expect. Their team haven’t lost a match in qualifying and they drew with Italy in their last match, after conceding a goal in the dying minutes.
“With most of their players in the (English) Premier League, they’re quite a solid team. But so are we.”
Blackburn midfielder Steven Reid insists he will be fit for next month’s World Cup playoffs against France and has dismissed fears about his future.
Irish boss Giovanni Trapattoni was fearful about Reid’s long-term career prospects after a series of serious knee injuries.
Reid hasn’t played for Ireland since the scoreless draw in Montenegro a year ago and pulled out of the squad for the recent clash with Italy.
Trap then voiced his concerns but Reid insisted, “For a start, the cartilage isn’t gone. It’s fine. In fact, the surgery’s been a total success. The rehabilitation was always going to take nine or 10 months and I’ve done everything by the book.
“I’ve played games recently and I haven’t had a problem with the knee. Unfortunately, I’ve just had a couple of niggly issues, first with a hamstring, and now this Achilles.
“So, the comments amazed me. Because I’m more positive now about my fitness than I’ve been in a long time. I certainly hope to be available for those play-off games.”
In other fitness news, QPR midfielder Martin Rowlands is out for the rest of the season after picking up another cruciate knee injury on Ireland duty in last week’s World Cup qualifier against Montenegro.