Ireland 0-1 France: Anelka Gives France Away-Goal Boost

First blood to Les Bleus...

Nicolas Anelka's deflected second half effort was enough for France to take a one-goal advantage over Ireland into the second leg of their European zone World Cup play-off in Paris on Wednesday.

An even first half gave way to a lop-sided second period which was bossed by Raymond Domenech's side. They could have had two or three as they pinned in the Irish as time progressed. However, the hosts battled to the end and were unlucky not to claim an equaliser through Glenn Whelan five minutes from time.

The sides sparred through the opening stages, adept in possession but with little tooth at either end; the Irish blinked first though when an Eric Abidal clearance became a through-ball as a result of a Richard Dunne misjudgement. Happily for the Boys in Green, Andre Pierre Gignac was flagged offside before he completed a plum finish over the head of Shay Given.

Les Bleus, in the early stages, worried the Irish in their own half; Anelka, playing far too deep for the most part, found space in the box and won a corner off a Gignac pull-back and the under par Yoann Gourcuff sent in a daisy-cutter that forced Given into action for the first time on 25 minutes.

Ireland were no slouches in their own right either; once they deduced that William Gallas and Abidal struggled under the high-ball, that was where they focussed their attacks. Keane fed Doyle on 13 minutes and his cross-come-shot from the right brought attention from Hugo Lloris.

It was in the 28th minute though when the opener should have come. Doyle's flick on found Keane, who forced Lloris into a save inside his six-yard box before Lawrence's follow-up was tipped round the post by the boot of Evra.

Moments later, as the game opened up, it was Gignac crowning a neat French move with a shot wide. Similarly, Thierry Henry, another bit-parter in the first half blasted wide on half-time after an error from Keith Andrews.  In between, the Blackburn man had a good chance to bend one in from 20 yards, from a Doyle square pass, but could not curl it inside the post.

It was a different France that appeared after the break; purposeful, diligent and in charge.

Aside from an Irish corner, under which they looked jittery, France dominated the territory and possession. Patient as they were in the build-up, they did not force a lot of action from Shay Given.

Lass fired a well executed volley just wide of the post by way of a warning shot and Patrice Evra might feel he should have had a penalty after the hour when Given appeared to check his progress in the box.

France were well on top and took the lead they deserved just after the 70 minute mark. A Gourcuff pass, about his only accurate one all night, located Anelka and his prod from outside the box hit the knee of Sean St Ledger and then the post before sinking the Croke Park spirits.

It should have been two on 80 minutes when Kilbane tipped a Lass through-ball into the path of Anelka. He was swept away by Given but the ball ended up with Gignac just yards from goal, however the Toulouse man contrived to put the ball out for a throw.

As infrequent as their threat was, the Irish were honest to the end; Leon Best's pass and Robbie Keane's round-the-corner flick gave Whelan a half chance with five minutes to play but Hugo Lloris did brilliantly to put an elbow to the midfielder's effort.

Peter Staunton,