I’ll admit that hearing many a pundit say that a World Cup without France would lose some of its bite made my blood boil. I have nothing against French Football, and in fact cheered for them in each of their four knock out stage matches of Germany 2006.
But from my perspective an Irish defeat today in Paris would be a defeat for football.
Let me explain. International Football is not simply about people at home on television watching high profile players face other top players. It is about atmosphere and spirit. It is about tactics. It is about the flag.
While many neutrals want to see France on TV during the World Cup, I’d dare to say that South African tourism officials would rather have Ireland qualify. The Irish will provide a legion of traveling support as compared to France, where much of the country remains indifferent if not downright hostile to the national team. French fans, with the exception of a small niche of followers aren’t known to travel to support Les Blues.
Television executives in the United States and United Kingdom must also be concerned about the potential departure of the Irish side from the World Cup. Television viewership for Republic of Ireland matches, in previous international tournaments were among the highest in both nations for those respective tournaments.
From a coaching standpoint, Giovanni Trapatonni, the current Irish manager is among world football’s elite tacticians over the last thirty years while his opposite number Raymond Domenech is a figure of comedy and superstition: a man whose management skills at this level cannot be taken seriously. To lose Trapatonni at a World Cup for Domenech would be a crime against Football.
Then you have the players themselves. Theirry Henry may have been outstanding for Arsenal but he could never replicate his club form for France, and at times it seemed like he did not care to do so.
Contrast that with Robbie Keane, whose club career in England has been very good but not outstanding. Keane, however plays his best matches when in an Irish kit, scoring some of the best and most timely goals International Football has seen over the past eight years.
Further down the squads, you see one high priced club player after another with France. Many of whom, don’t seem to have the passion their Irish counterparts, paid less and playing for less prestigious clubs have when they put on the national team shirt.
If the French lose today, the players will go back to their respective clubs and get on with it. The fans will be upset for a few days but go back to regular daily life. If Ireland loses today, the players will have lost a piece of their being and something they worked so hard to achieve, while the nation will mourn for an extended period of time.
Against this backdrop, do we really think France ought to qualify instead of Ireland?
DISCLOSURE: I HAVE NOTHING AGAINST FRANCE AND LIKELY WOULD HAVE WRITTEN THE SAME PIECE ABOUT RUSSIA, PORTUGAL OR GREECE IF IRELAND HAS BEEN DRAWN WITH ONE OF THOSE NATIONS INSTEAD OF FRANCE.