Martin O’Neill has criticised the disproportionate ticket distribution for Republic of Ireland’s last-16 tie with France, but backed his players to overcome the advantages loaded in the host nation’s favour at the Stade de Lyon.
Ireland were allocated 4,500 tickets for the game against opponents who have had three more days to prepare than their opponents. A request by the Football Association of Ireland to Uefa for extra tickets yielded a measly 104 for the 59,000-capacity stadium and O’Neill, whose team were backed by almost 25,000 fans against Italy in Lille, believes the allocation represents a significant disadvantage against the tournament hosts.
“The ticket allocation is something I do have a gripe about,” the Republic of Ireland manager said. “It is totally disproportionate for a stadium of this size and brilliance. For us or any team playing in the last 16 to be allocated less than 5,000 tickets is pretty unfair.
“It is totally disproportionate and not only because it is us – any side should have a certain allocation set aside for making it here. France have had that opportunity, having advanced three days before us, so it is going to be seriously one-sided.”
Vast home support is not the only factor in France’s favour. Didier Deschamps’s side played their final group game last Sunday, and were able to rest players having qualified after their first two matches, while Ireland secured their place in the last 16 with Wednesday’s dramatic late victory over Italy.
O’Neill said his team’s preparations have been limited. “You have to take rest into consideration. That was always going to be the case with kicking off late in the competition so we knew we would face this problem if we did qualify. It’s not the first time that international sides have had an advantage in terms of rest.
“We have to cope with it and get on with it. If they have recovered in time and the players can show the same zeal and energy of the other night against Italy then we will be up for it.
“The most important thing for players who played at that level of performance, the intensity they played at for 90 minutes, it is going to take its toll. Those players have done very little since. Rest is the most important thing for us and we’ll go through a couple of video things in the lead-up to the game because, outside of that, no one will be doing that much.”
Stephen Ward and Jonathan Walters trained at the Stade de Lyon on Saturday but remain doubts with ankle and achilles injuries respectively. O’Neill urged his team not to exit the Euros meekly but to go out blazing, albeit with the rider: “Most of all you want to stay in the tournament and we feel we can do it.”
The Ireland manager left the firm impression that a penalty shoot-out after 120 minutes is in his thoughts as a route to the quarter-finals. “We have been practising penalties,” he said. “We’ve done that a number of times, even before we arrived here. If we do get to penalties there is at least three players who won’t be taking them. They haven’t been able to hit the target too often.
“We have practised penalties consistently, but replicating what happens at the training ground, when all players want to take them, including the goalkeepers, might be slightly different to what happens in a tournament. I’ve seen great, great players at major tournaments and in European Cup finals down tools and not take them. It will depend on who is on the pitch at the time, obviously. We’ve done as much as we possibly can in that aspect.”
Deschamps has told France to prepare for a battle, but believes revenge for Thierry Henry’s handball will not be the over-riding motivation. It is the first meeting between the countries since the hugely controversial World Cup play-off in 2009 when Les Bleus qualified courtesy of a William Gallas goal created by Henry’s handball. Deschamps believes France have more to fear from Ireland’s competitive spirit than any revenge mission.
“They are ready to go into battle as a unit and will fight all the way for each other,” said the France coach. “That’s why I know we are going to have a tricky match. I’m not going to use it [the handball] and I’m not sure Martin O’Neill will talk about it either.
“There is no revenge in football. It was six years ago and the only thing we can change is what happens tomorrow. I don’t think this feeling exists in top-level football unless you play the same team three days later. I don’t think it will have any influence whatsoever.”
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