So much for Raymond Domenech proving Ireland's greatest resource. The way the build-up to this match had been presented, it could well have been the template for an experiment on international football. Or at least a half-way watchable reality TV idea. Provide one proven manager with an apparently mediocre team full of triers, provide one pilloried manager with a supposedly magnificent team full of talent and see what variable proves the more valuable. At the least, it would go some way to proving whether Greece's Euro 2004 win – alluded to for inspiration in the last week and throughout Giovanni Trapattoni's reign – remains an anomaly or an example to so many mid-tier nations out there. It isn't of course that simple, the details not so black and white. As Nicolas Anelka's fortuitous strike proved.
Although Raymond Domenech hardly helped the assumptions of a clear line between himself and his squad in the hours before kick-off as rumours spread of yet another row with Thierry Henry. The Barcelona striker, however, started. And ensured his team made a huge show of unity in the seconds before it started as each French player went around giving another a hug while the Irish huddled.
Such warmth seemed to fire the players as this wasn't the usual cagey opening to such continental two-legged ties. No doubt emboldened both by their manager and a crowd inspired by a welcome rendition of 'Put 'em under Pressure' beforehand, Ireland threw themselves into it early on, best exemplified by a thorough challenge by Damien Duff on Bacary Sagna after just 40 seconds. It was a theme all too willingly picked up by the excellent Keith Andrews.
Having managed to endure initial Irish aggression, the French attempted to reform the structure of the game with their finesse. While this resulted in some worryingly pregnant pauses 30 yards from the Irish goal from Yoann Gourcuff, Henry or Nicolas Anelka – who looked the most dangerous from a deeper position – it produced nothing beyond a series of set-pieces. An aimlessness endemic of Domenech's reign. Each one was met by either Dunne or John O'Shea. Such swiftness was required from Ireland as they were offered a timely reminder of the potential consequences of any slip, when Henry expertly flicked over for Gignac to finish. It was, mercifully, offside.
Despite confusion over the linesman's flag, there was no such reprieve for Liam Lawrence when he put the opportunity of the first half wide. The embarrassment of that aside, it did inspire Ireland's best spell of the half as they finally felt confident enough to offer a bit of fluidity to go with their fight. With the likes of William Gallas holding steady, the best they could offer was Andrews' curled effort just wide.
That continued into the second half though with Ireland offering all the energy early on. A little too much as Robbie Keane was too eager to get onto a long ball and adjudged offside while a goalmouth scramble that looked set to bring the opening goal resulted in a free out.
Such effort was never going to be sustainable however and Ireland predictably sat back to conserve themselves from about 50 minutes. Here was where it was up to the French to justify their reputations, and bring the away goal that could conceivably end the tie.
Gourcuff almost caught Given with a looping header but they kept coming up against a less-polished but just as fortified Irish wall. On 66 minutes – around the same time of his goal in Lansdowne Road four years ago – attempted a repeat but this time it sailed over.
Then, Domenech got lucky. Anelka attempted a pot shot and the ball deflected onto Seán St Ledger, off the post, and in. As the truism goes, it's always likely to happen when you've got that type of quality on the pitch. Ireland toiled but still the hapless Gignac could have made the tie safe only to blaze wide. Domenech or not though, quite simply, an awful lot will have to be done to even out France's excellence on Wednesday. Whether we have the sufficient quality to do so is the question to be asked now.