Ireland 0 France 1

Ireland's chances of playing in South Africa next summer suffered a serious blow last night in Dublin when they lost 1-0 to France in the first leg of their World Cup playoff.

Nicolas Anelka's deflected second half strike was the difference on the night in a tight match at a packed out Croke Park. The Chelsea striker struck the killer blow on 72 minutes when his shot deflected off Sean St Ledger past a wrong footed Shay Given in the Ireland goal.

Despite dominating possession and giving occasional glimpses of their superior passing game France struggled to break down a resolute Irish defence marshalled by Richard Dunne. The home side just about shaded the first half and were unlucky not to find themselves ahead at the break when Patrice Evra got a vital touch on Liam Lawrence's goal bound effort.

Whatever the under fire Raymond Domenech told his players at half time appeared to work as a previously lacklustre French side began turning the screw with Anelka and Thierry Henry becoming more and more influential as the half wore on.

Giovanni Trapattoni's team struggled to get a foothold in the game in the second half but went close to scoring an equalizer through Glenn Whelan three minutes from time. However, the impressive Hugo Lloris pulled off a brave stop to give his team all of the aces ahead of Wednesday's second leg in Paris.

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