Given: We can shock French

Shay Given insists the Republic of Ireland have to believe they can upset the odds to edge past France into the World Cup finals.

Shay Given insists the Republic of Ireland have to believe they can upset the odds to edge past France into the World Cup finals.

Ireland welcome Raymond Domenech’s side to Croke Park on Saturday evening and then make the daunting trip to the Stade de France four days later, with a ticket to South Africa awaiting the victors.

The odds may be heavily stacked against Giovanni Trapattoni’s men – who have done well to reach the play-offs while France, in the eyes of most, have under-achieved in their efforts to qualify.

But Manchester City star Given has warned the 2006 runners-up not to write off the Irish.

He told www.fifa.com: “We have to believe.

“We know France are the favourites, but that’s fine with us, it means there’s more pressure on them. We need to just play our own game and give it everything.

“We have two massive games in front of us, but I think we are in with a great chance of reaching the World Cup.”

Given, of course, is a veteran of his country’s eventful trip to the 2002 finals in the Far East, and knows exactly what an aggregate victory over one of European football’s aristocrats would mean to the nation.

He said: “It would mean a hell of a lot to the people of Ireland to qualify.

“There’s a lot of doom and gloom about with the recession, so it would be good to give the people something to look forward to.

“I played at the World Cup in 2002 and it was a great experience, the pinnacle of my career so far. I would love to do that again.”

However, the 33-year-old knows even a French squad lacking the injured Franck Ribery will prove a major threat to his hopes in a winner-takes-all contest.

Given said: “Where do I start? They have got so many fantastic players.

“Their attack is especially strong – players like [Thierry] Henry, [Karim] Benzema and [Nicolas] Anelka are capable of winning any game.

“But we are confident. They struggled in qualifying. I think everybody expected them to win the group, but they only finished as runners-up.”

Ireland secured their place in the play-offs without losing any of their 10 qualifiers, a run which included home and away draws with reigning champions Italy.

That is testament to the work 70-year-old Trapattoni has done with them in the 18 months since he succeeded Steve Staunton as manager.

But their recent improvement will be put to the sternest of tests over the next week or so, and Given knows there is little margin for error.

He said: “We have got to keep it tight in the first leg. I think it’s important that we don’t concede.

“It won’t be easy against such quality strikers, but our defenders are capable of stopping them.

“It will be a tight game, so hopefully we can take our chances. I actually think 0-0 would be a good result for us.”

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