Former champions France have been handed a tough task against Ireland in the European playoffs to qualify for next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa.
France, who won the World Cup on home soil in 1998, finished a distant second to Serbia after a lackluster campaign in Group 7, while the Irish pushed Italy hard in their group. France coach Raymond Domenech is under pressure going into the two-legged affair on November 14 and 18, but told the official FIFA Web site www.fifa.com that he was unconcerned about who they drew. “I don’t have any preference,” he said. “My preference is to qualify for the World Cup. Whatever the team will be, it will be tricky; they will want to cling on, to beat us. “We will take whoever we are drawn against – telling ourselves that they’re tough opponents, who also want to qualify for the World Cup. There are two matches, and everyone has a chance.”
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Ireland have improved under Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni but have the disadvantage of playing the first leg at Dublin’s 82,000 Croke Park before the trip to the Stade de France four days later. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal have been given a potentially easier tie against Bosnia-Herzegovina with home advantage first. Ronaldo was injured as Portugal clinched second place in Group 1 with an easy home win over Malta. Bosnia held off Turkey and Belgium to finish second in their group behind European champions Spain. The other ties to decide the four remaining qualifiers from Europe see 2004 European champions Greece taking on Ukraine while Guus Hiddink’s Russia play Slovenia. The group winners from Europe who have already qualified are Denmark, Switzerland, Slovakia, Germany, Spain, England, Serbia, Italy and the Netherlands. Draw for the World Cup qualifying playoffs: Republic of Ireland v France Portugal v Bosnia-Herzegovina Greece v Ukraine Russia v Slovenia Ties to be played on November 14 and 18.