Ireland’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa were dealt a cruel blow when an unlucky Sean St. Ledger own goal gave France a 1-0 win at Croke Park in Dublin on Saturday night.
The Irish battled valiantly but have nothing to show for it, and now go to Paris an away goal down.
Giovanni Trapattoni's men harried and hussled throughout, but a spell of dominant French possession midway through the second half ended with a fortuitous goal for the visitors.
Wave after wave of French attack was swept aside by the Irish, but in the 72nd minute, Lassana Diarra passed it through to Gourcuff, who laid it off to Nicolas Anelka.
The Chelsea striker's shot took a wicked deflection off the unfortunate Sean St. Ledger, clipped the right hand post and went into the net with Given stranded.
Ireland were extremely lucky not to go two down in the 79th minute, when a sloppy back pass from Kilbane put Given in all sorts of trouble. The break fell to Gignac, who somehow missed a gaping goal to leave the Irish only one goal behind.
Ireland had their best move of the game in the 87th minute when a good one-two from Keane and Leon Best saw Keane's layoff find its way to Glenn Whelan.
However, Lyon keeper Lloris made a great save at his feet to thwart the danger and keep his side in the lead.
The night had started so differently for the boys in green. In front of a 74,103 passionate supporters at GAA headquarters, the Irish started tentatively, with the French easing into their passing game on the slick surface.
Gignac put the ball in the Irish net in the tenth minute, but the referee’s assistant flag was raised for offside and the goal was disallowed.
Ireland began to assert themselves a little more as the first half went on, and in the 28th minute it looked like Liam Lawrence missed a sitter after a flick on to Keane was parried by the French keeper.
However, the referee's whistle had blown for a French free before the miss. In the replay it looked more like a French defender had handled the ball than anything else, but the referee or his assistant saw otherwise.
Sloppy play from the Irish defense nearly allowed Thierry Henry a goal in the 38th minute, but his toe poked effort went wide.
The Irish had a great chance to take the lead in the 52nd minute when great play from Duff resulted in a corner. The Fulham winger duly swung an inviting ball in the the box that Richard Dunne could not connect with properly. The ball fell to O’Shea who screwed his shot wide before the referee whistled for an Irish infringement in the penalty area.
The Irish would regret this missed chance as the French started to dominate and fate intervened to give the visitors an invaluable lead.
At the final whistle there was an altercation between Irish and French players in the center circle, but Ireland will need to save all their energy for the second leg in Paris, when they will have to keep the French scoreless and find the back of the net if they want to stay in the tie.