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PREVIEW - France and Portugal face nervy final steps
LONDON (Reuters) - A 1-0 victory in Dublin put France on the verge of qualification for the 2010 World Cup but the final step towards South Africa could still be a treacherous one in Paris on Wednesday.
Injuries have disrupted France's preparations for the second leg of their play-off against Ireland who will arrive fuelled by a sense of injustice as they fight to keep their World Cup dreams alive after just missing out to world champions Italy.
French anxiety will be shared by Portugal when they take a 1-0 advantage to what will be a hostile second leg in Bosnia while Guus Hiddink's Russia could also be in for a raw night in Slovenia when they travel with a 2-1 lead.
With Euro 2004 champions Greece drawing 0-0 at home to Ukraine on Saturday all four of the remaining European slots for the South Africa tournament are still up for grabs on what promises to be a nerve-tingling night on Wednesday.
France, beaten to automatic qualification by Serbia and with question marks hanging over the future of coach Raymond Domenech, will be without defender Eric Abidal and midfielders Jeremy Toulalan and Abou Diaby for the visit of Ireland.
With Arsenal left back Gael Clichy and Bayern Munich playmaker Frank Ribery also absent for France, Ireland will not be daunted as they try to upset a higher-ranked team in a competitive match for the first time since 2001.
With wily Italian Giovanni Trapattoni at the helm they will believe they still have a chance of causing a huge upset.
"It is 50-50. It is only halfway. Anything can happen. I have seen in my time in Italy, in my time here with Ireland, many surprise results," Trapattoni said this week.
"Start with a little deflection, 1-0 to us. Why not?"
Ireland's players were riled by UEFA's decision to seed the playoffs and their frustrations boiled over on Saturday when midfielder Keith Andrews became involved in a heated exchange with French midfielder Lassana Diarra.
Andrews said Diarra made disrespectful comments, a charge denied by Diarra on Monday.
"I didn't say anything. I have absolutely nothing against Irish people," Diarra told Sky Sports News. "If Andrews asks for trouble, we will meet again on Wednesday."
Bosnia are striving to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time and Portugal, without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, could be in for an ear-bashing in Zenica.
"We will launch an onslaught like hungry wolves from the start and I am certain that Portugal will be stunned by the atmosphere," Bosnia coach Miroslav Blazevic was quoted as saying by daily Dnevni Avaz.
"How do we counter that atmosphere? (By) trying to keep the ball and playing, always being dangerous," Portugal's Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho told reporters.
Carvalho's former Chelsea team mate Andriy Shevchenko will know that Ukraine's clash with Greece in Donetsk represents his last chance of appearing in a World Cup finals and his side will start as favourites to go through.
(Editing by Sonia Oxley; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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