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We can win!

If we marshall France's returning hero properly, we can help ourselves to all three points, says Tony Cascarino.

Tony Cascarino, 02 Sep 2005

The French game is easily the most important one Ireland has played under Brian Kerr, and winnable if we impose ourselves on them from the get-go.

One of the big deciding factors will be our handling of Zinedine Zidane who was superb last week in their 3-0 friendly defeat of Ivory Coast, and mustn’t be allowed to get his head up and start picking out passes. It’ll be interesting to see whether Brian gets Roy Keane to man mark him or tells whoever’s nearest to get on him. I’d personally go for the latter option, and limit the number of balls he slips through to Thierry Henry who’s capable of leaving Kenny Cunningham and Richard Dunne for dead.

Having seen Richard captaining Manchester City at the weekend, I think he has to get the nod over Andy O’Brien who’s been having a pretty rotten time of things at Portsmouth.

Trezuegeut being one of the few disappointments against the Ivory Coast, I reckon their coach, Raymond Domenech, will pair Henry up with Barcelona’s Ludovic Giuly. He’s a little pitbull – fast, aggressive and almost impossible to bundle off the ball when he’s got it. Giuly attacking down the left where we’ve had problems in the past is a real concern, and why I think John O’Shea will be chosen over Ian Harte who isn’t equipped to deal with that sort of pace. A shame because he’s a real threat at set-pieces, which we don’t want to be wasting against a team of France’s calibre.

Bearing in mind it was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for next week, I thought Brian was stupid to start against Italy with Clinton Morrison as the lone striker. Robbie Keane was absent, sure, but he could have brought Stephen Elliott in and stuck with 4-4-2, which is by far and away our best formation. Going 4-3-3 for 70 minutes was a pointless exercise that I’m sure had the players wondering "Why?"

I was in France last week and, while not quite dancing in the streets, the locals were jubilant that Zidane, Makelele and Thuram have returned to the international fold.

Domenech is very similar to Brian Kerr in that he’s come up through the ranks, and hasn’t got much experience of handling the top players. He maintains it was his decision to invite them back, but everyone I spoke to said his hand was forced by the French Football Federation who were concerned about the lack of experience and leadership in the squad.

France are a far, far better team with them but not unbeatable. I’d tell Andy Reid to run as much as possible at Jean-Alain Boumsong who doesn’t always convince at left-back.

Reid has the potential to become a key player for Ireland. He sees passes, has an eye for goal and appears far fitter than last season when his bum was a bit big. I imagine the improvement in his physical condition has come from the Spurs boss, Martin Jol, telling him to lose 4 or 5lbs and start looking after himself better.

I’ll also be interested to see how Elliott does this season for Sunderland. He showed in the second-half against the Faroes that he’s a handful, and may be a better medium-term bet than Clinton Morrison who, for all his hard work, isn’t a Premiership player and is better off moving to the Championship where he’ll get week in, week out football.

It’s a big season too for Stephen Reid, who would have been ahead of his namesake Andy at one point but has suffered from not being a regular in the Blackburn side. If he’s still warming the bench at Christmas, I can see a transfer request landing on Mark Hughes’ desk.

Head on the chopping block time! If we come out of the traps fast enough and don’t let them settle, I think we’ll shade it 2-1. Give Zidane too much respect and space and it could be a torrid night. Here’s hoping it’s the former!

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