| The World Cup in Zurich on Monday. (AP) |
London: France must get past Ireland to reach the 2010 World Cup finals after they were drawn together on Monday for next months two-legged European playoffs.
Portugal, who scraped into the playoffs by winning their last three Group One fixtures to seal runners-up spot, face Bosnia, Euro 2004 champions Greece tackle Ukraine and Russia will play Slovenia.
Bosnia, runners-up to Spain in their qualifying group, are attempting to reach their first major finals while Slovenia are looking to repeat their feat of reaching Euro 2000.
France, the 1998 world champions, 2000 European champions and beaten World Cup finalists in 2006, will have the advantage of playing the second leg on home soil against an Ireland side coached by Giovanni Trapattoni.
While France, the highest ranked team in the playoffs at nine, will be favourites, the pressure will be on coach Raymond Domenech who came under fire during a qualifiying tournament in which they were outshone by group winners Serbia. He will be wary of an Ireland side who went through a qualifying group containing world champions Italy and Bulgaria without losing a match.
We wanted to avoid Ukraine, French Football Federation (FFF) technical director Gerard Houllier said. Ireland are competitive and tricky to play but we must not overrate them. Its a slight advantage to play the return leg at home but the first leg is often the most important one because it either gives you confidence or ruins your hopes.
FFF vice-president Noel Le Graet said: France, with the quality of their football, must qualify. We made life difficult for ourselves but now we must make sure we are competitive.
Portugal, Greece and Russia, the other seeded nations in a draw performed at Fifa headquarters in Zurich by midfielder Steven Pienaar of World Cup hosts South Africa, will have to play the second legs away.
Russia are clear favourites in our two matches and I am worried about the conditions we will have in Russia, said Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek.
Pienaar, who also plays for English Premier League Everton, said he was looking forward to Portugals clash with Bosnia. It will be an exciting pairing, he told Fifas website (www.fifa.com). I wish all eight teams the best and look forward to seeing the winners in South Africa.
The first legs take place on Nov. 14 with the returns on Nov. 18. (Reuters)