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October 20, 2009

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France drawn against Ireland in 2010 playoffs

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 yesterday.

Also, 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 on November 14 and 18.

Next year's 32-nation tournament is scheduled for June 11-July 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, labored to beat Lithuania and eventually allowed Serbia to win its 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 semifinals 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.


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