Sunday 26 June 2016

Anyone For a Nice Salad?..... Irish Klingon to Euro Hope

As they say...."Revenge is a dish best eaten cold". However, who exactly are "they" and when did they actually voice this chilling slice of wisdom? Many historians attribute the phrase to French novelist Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' "Les Liaisons Dangereuses". In fact the phrase is not in any of his writings and neither is there any record of his ever voicing these ideas! How fraudulently French - rather like Thierry Henry's basketball masterclass that allowed Les Bleus to progress to the World cup finals at the expense of a brave but ultimately cheated Ireland.

And so to Ireland versus France today...Randolph versus Payet....Endeavour versus craft......Justice versus Thierry Henry. For many observers this is a no brainer - as hosts, it would be a catastrophe were France to be eliminated. Moreover, Dimitri Payet has been the star of the show so far and those who watch proceedings in order to be entertained (i.e. not proper partisan football curmudgeons) will not want the charming talisman to run out of opportunities to wield his magic.

However, for fans of West Ham and of Ireland this is an entirely different call. While Ireland simply want revenge for the Henry nonsense, Hammers fans want Payet out of the Euro shop window. With Zidane and others purring about his performances, it may take more than his current five year contract to keep him in East London next year. Secretly, many Hammers fans have been wishing for a minor injury to halt his charge.

In terms of the contest, Ireland are quoted at 9-1 against to progress - the worst odds for any side still in the tournament. careful analysis suggests this might be worth a punt. Apart from Payet, France have not been particularly impressive to date with Pogba and Griezmann failing to deliver upon their potential. Moreover, Les Bleus are shaky at the back with an aged defence who will struggle if Extra Time comes into the equation. Patrice Evra in particular looks well past his sell-by date.

Meanwhile, for all their limitations (this is the weakest Ireland squad in decades - there are no Giles, Brady, Stapleton, McGrath, Keane et in the current crop), the Irish are well organised and courageous. One senses that they can cancel out France across the pitch BUT with one exception: Payet. Just what Martin O'Neill has planned is unclear but the return of Jonathan Walters to pair up with Seamus the Coal man on the right side will reduce Irish fears somewhat.

If that works in denying Payet space in his favoured position (quite a big 'if'!), Dimitri will drift more central where he will encounter his old sparring mate James McCarthy. McCarthy will need to be on form if he is to prevent Payet providing another masterclass. McCarthy may be considering trying on another scissors tackle like the one that sidelined Payet for six weeks last season, but unlike at Goodison Park, such tactics are unlikely to go unpunished today.

In terms of free kicks, Payet is simply stunning. However, In the Irish goal will be a keeper who trains with him every day and will be better equipped than most to deal with this threat. However, this is an example par excellence where prevention is better than cure. Let's hope the French crowd don't overly influence the referee into awarding spurious free kicks but Coleman, Walters, Whelan and McCarthy need to be VERY disciplined in order to avoid presenting Payet with gilt-edged scoring chances.

The odds are certainly stacked in France's favour but if Ireland can frustrate them then the crowd will get edgy and the notorious wobbly French psyche may come in to play. One would hazard a guess that Martin O'Neill's men have spent more than just a few minutes fine tuning their penalty taking skills in training. If Ireland can cling on for 120 minutes then they can also benefit from Randolph's big presence in goal. If not, they need to look to Karma and the Klingon proverb from Star Trek II, The Wrath of Kahn, 1982.


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