Les Blues still the talk of the town

SHADES of blue: the Azzurri may be the opposition tomorrow night at Lansdowne Road but the talk yesterday concerned the visit of Les Bleus to the same venue on September 7.

The returning musketeers - Zidane, Makelele and Thuram - have raised the bar, and the stakes, for what was always going to be one of the biggest games in Group 4 of the World Cup qualifiers.

Republic of Ireland midfielder Graham Kavanagh thinks it’s no surprise Zidane has returned but doesn’t automatically assume that it will make Ireland’s task more formidable.

“Zidane is a world class player and certainly he’ll add to the team but they already have world class players all over the pitch,” he said.

“But I think the fact that he is back means they may have to change their style or their system slightly. Whether they can do that successfully with just a few games to go remains to be seen. In the past, we’ve never really worried too much about the opposition we’ve always concentrated on what we have.

“We’re also at home, it’s going to be a massive game we all know what’s at stake. If we can put in a performance like we have in the past against the likes of Holland, there’s no reason why we can’t go and beat them.”

Irish skipper Kenny Cunningham says he too wasn’t surprised by the return of ZZ and co.

“The French haven’t been at their best in this qualifying campaign and haven’t found any real rhythm to their play,” he points out. “So I think that psychologically they’ll be stronger with those players in the squad. Obviously Zidane is getting a lot of the headlines but Makelele in particular and Thuram will add real strength to their team. It all adds real spice to the occasion. That’s the good thing about it. Everyone was already looking forward to the night and with those players involved it will only add to a wonderful occasion. And certainly with those players in the team against us it would make victory taste that bit sweeter.

“I’m very much looking forward to it. Experience tells you that you can’t really affect what goes in the opposition squad; all you can do is prepare as best you can yourself. Be the best you can be on the night. Be as organised as we can be, be as effective as a unit as we can be. Hopefully, that will be good enough.

“Graham made an interesting point about how they will have to accommodate Zidane and whether their shape will change. The footage from their game this week (against Ivory Coast) will be interesting to see and analyse before our game.”

Cunningham doesn’t think Zidane’s return will unsettle the French camp.

“Zidane, apart from being a wonderful footballer, comes across as a very humble human being, and I would expect that as a man as much as a footballer he is very much respected by the French team and the French people. I wouldn’t think there would be any kind of ill-feeling about him coming back into the team or taking the captaincy.

“He’s a wonderful, amazing player and a big man as well. As they say, he has feet like hands, the way he can manipulate the ball. He has great close control, it never feels as if you can get that close to him, the ball’s always away by the time you arrive. He has a wonderful appreciation of space and players. There’s a real aura about him, as the world class players always have.

“So, he will be a threat and we will speak about him but Zidane won’t be the only item on the agenda. They can hurt you in many other areas of the pitch with the players we all know, like Henry, Cisse, Vieira, and Giuly. So we know the threat they possess but it’s also about how we approach the game and the quality of our performance on the night.”

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