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Updated: October 19, 2009 19:02 IST

France to play Ireland in WC playoff

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The Football World Cup. File Photo: AP
The Football World Cup. File Photo: AP

France will face Ireland in a two-leg playoff for a spot at next year’s World Cup in South Africa, while Portugal was drawn to play Bosnia-Herzegovina on Monday.Russia will face Slovenia and Greece will play Ukraine.

While France got perhaps the toughest draw for the four seeded teams, it will travel to Dublin for the first leg and host the Irish for the crucial return.

Portugal, Russia and Greece must all play at home first before facing their lower-ranked opponents on the road.

The matches will be played Nov. 14 and 18.

The draw for the World Cup finals will be made on Dec. 4 in Cape Town. The next year’s 32-nation tournament is scheduled from June 11.

FIFA was criticized when it decided last month — with just two rounds of qualifying left — to seed the playoff draw and ensure that the highest-ranked nations would not face each other.

Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni suggested FIFA acted to protect marquee attractions, such as Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo and France striker Thierry Henry.

France, the highest-ranked team at No. 9, stuttered in qualifying despite an array of world-class forwards such as Henry, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema. The French lost in Austria, laboured to beat Lithuania and eventually allowed Serbia to win their group with one match to spare.

France coach Raymond Domenech faced regular calls for his firing despite having led France to the 2006 World Cup final.

Ireland was the only playoff team to go unbeaten through qualifying, yet finished runner-up to world champion Italy. Portugal, ranked No. 10, also struggled as it got only one victory in its first five matches.

Ronaldo failed to score in the 10-match series but helped his country edge past Sweden to finish runner-up behind Denmark.

Bosnia got its football independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1993 and has never played at a World Cup. The team’s coach, 74-year-old Miroslav Blazevic, led Croatia to the semi-finals in 1998.

Bosnia edged Turkey to claim the runner-up spot behind European champion Spain.

Russia coach Guus Hiddink is aiming to lead his fourth different nation at a World Cup, after placing second behind Germany in qualifying.

He took his native Netherlands to the semi-finals in 1998 and co-host South Korea to the last four in 2002. Three years ago, Hiddink led Australia to the second round.

Slovenia is aiming to reach the World Cup for the second time. In 2002, the team lost all three of its games. Ranked No. 49, Slovenia edged the Czech Republic to finish runner-up in its group behind Slovakia.

Greece, the lowest-ranked seeded team at No. 16, was the favoured opponent for the non-seeded nations — and got No. 22 Ukraine.

The 2004 European champions finished second in their group behind Switzerland. The Greeks lost all three matches at their only previous World Cup, in 1994.

Ukraine was a quarterfinalist at the 2006 World Cup, its first major tournament appearance since splitting from the former Soviet Union.

Victory in the playoffs will be worth millions of dollars (euros), both in prize money paid by FIFA and increased commercial exposure at the world’s most-watched televised sporting event.

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