Ireland can hold France in crucial Croke contest

<strong>REPUBLIC OF IRELAND vs. FRANCE</strong><br />Tomorrow 8pm, Sky Sports 1<br />IRELAND haven&rsquo;t tasted defeat in Dublin since the 2006 World Cup qualifiers when they lost 1-0 to France in September 2005. Since then they have won five and drawn seven of 12 competitive home games. <br /><br />It is never easy to analyse international football form, as teams play each other so infrequently, but have devised their own set of rankings to make form analysis much more incisive. <br /><br />Although Ireland are ranked 25th, compared with France at seven, there is no doubt that they are a much better side on home turf. They have held both Italy and Germany in recent years and since the 1992 European Championship qualifying campaign, the boys in green have drawn half of 10 home games against top 12-ranked opposition, winning three times.<br /><br />Giovanni Trapattoni has generally adopted a defensive strategy throughout his career and Ireland&rsquo;s contests against the best sides are invariably closely fought encounters. In their last six games hosting top-12 opponents, all have been tied at the break, as have seven of their last 10, with four of those settling the draw half-time / draw full-time result. In fact, Ireland have been all-square at half-time in six of their last 12 competitive home games, all of which ended in a stalemate.<br /><br />France have been poor during the qualifiers, but under pressure coach Raymond Domenech will know that his team&rsquo;s best chance of progressing is to concentrate primarily on the return leg in Paris. The French have only played six matches away at sides ranked 20-30 since the 1992 Euro qualifiers and they have drawn four of those. Les Bleus have also only lost two of 34 away qualifiers since 1993. <br /><br />All is set for a tight game with seven of Ireland&rsquo;s last 10 at home against top-12 ranked sides, and nine of France&rsquo;s 14 competitive away games since 2005, featuring less than three goals. These teams have only ever played each other twice (2004 and 2005) with only one goal being scored in those meetings, so a sell of goals with Sporting Index looks the correct call.<br /><br /><strong>POINTERS...</strong><br />Match to be drawn at 11/5 with Boylesports<br />Draw HT / draw FT at 4/1 with Boylesports<br />No goalscorer at 7/1 on Betdaq<br />Sell total match goals at 2.05 with Sporting Index<br /><br /><strong>BRAZIL vs. ENGLAND</strong><br />Tomorrow 5pm, ITV1<br />WE have already established that it is difficult to weigh up international form, but it is even harder in a meaningless friendly between two sides on a neutral ground. This game is taking place in Qatar which makes a red hot atmosphere unlikely and with doubts about the line-ups, it would be unwise to have too strong an opinion on the match.<br /><br />These two countries have played each other 22 times and England have only managed to win three &ndash; the last being a 1-0 friendly win before Italia &rsquo;90. Since then they&rsquo;ve drawn four and lost three of the past seven meetings. Both sides are ranked in Bettorlogic&rsquo;s top-10 (Brazil 2nd, England 6th) and in 27 competitive games against top-10 sides on neutral soil since 1950, England have only won seven (W7-D8-L12). However, they have gone into the break level in 15 (56 per cent) of those games.<br /><br />The Samba Boys also have a strong record for half-time draws and in their 38 neutral World Cup or Copa America games against top-10 opposition since 1950, they have drawn a remarkable 68 per cent of first halves. However, they have a much stronger record in the second period than England winning 19 of those 38 games (W19-D11-L8). This is in addition to winning 22 of their last 30 neutral friendlies against all sides since 1990, including games against Italy, Argentina and England.<br /><br />Brazil have played England four times during the World Cup tournament itself, winning three and drawing the other, but all of those four games were level at the break. The two nations have also faced each other twice in neutral friendlies since 1990, a 1-1 draw in 1993 and a 1-0 Brazil victory in 1997 &ndash; but yet again, both of those games were tied at half-time.<br /><br /><strong>POINTERS...</strong><br />Brazil to win at 5/4 with Hills<br />Draw HT / Brazil FT at 9/2 on Betdaq<br />Sell total match goals at 2.4 with Sporting Index<br /><br /><strong>ENGLAND vs. ARGENTINA</strong><br />Tomorrow 2.30pm, Sky Sports 2<br />A little over three years ago, Argentina embarrassed England, then world champions, with a 25-18 victory at Twickenham. That defeat ultimately cost Andy Robinson his job and while Martin Johnson appears safer at the helm of this English side, he must be worried about a similar embarrassment. England looked lacklustre in attack against Australia, and as it was then, the game against Argentina is likely to be won or lost among the forwards.<br /><br />The inclusion of James Haskell at No8 and hooker Dylan Hartley in the starting line-up is a positive move after both impressed as subs last Saturday, but the bigger factor is Johnno&rsquo;s persistent headache &ndash; England&rsquo;s lengthy injury list. Duncan Bell is a necessary starter at tighthead and judging by the way he struggled against the Wallabies, England&rsquo;s scrum will have to work very hard. Against a pack which includes the awesome Ledesma at the front and Lobbe at the rear, I expect the forwards to neutralise each other resulting in slow ball both ways. A forecast of heavy rain over the early part of the weekend supports a prediction of a sluggish, low-scoring game.<br /><br />There&rsquo;s no doubt that the current Argentina are weaker than the ferocious team that finished the 2007 World Cup in third place, especially without &lsquo;the Magician&rsquo; Juan Martin Hernandez at fly-half, but I don&rsquo;t think they deserve a nine point start. Hills&rsquo; 10/11 for Argentina on the handicap looks good value.<br /><br /><strong>POINTERS...</strong><br />Argentina to win with 9 point start at 10/11 with Hills<br />Sell total match points at around 35 with Sporting Index