Arnaud Becuwe in action for France at the Champions Challenge 2
Arnaud Becuwe in action for France at the Champions Challenge 2
(Photo: Stephen Findlater)

France and Ireland’s destinies are very much intertwined this summer, possibly facing each other potentially six times should they both advance to Sunday’s Champions Challenge II final.

The pair have already met in the Celtic Cup and the UCD 4 Nations with Ireland notching six goal wins. But, last Sunday, the French turned the tables to continued their major ranking event hoodoo over the Irish as they battled their way to a 2-2.

In the coming months, the two nations will meet again at the INSEP Five Nations in Paris before the big one on August 22, paired together in the group stages of the European championships.

It was the French who virtually relegated the Irish four years ago, a solo Freddie Soyez goal earning the win from a mad-cap match in Manchester. They also bumped Ireland down to fourth in the 2008 Olympic qualifiers in New Zealand, showing their ability to rise to the big occason

For French star Arnaud Becuwe – who marked his 100th cap on Thursday with a vital equalising goal three minutes from time against Austria – it is a trend the French aim to continue despite heavy defeats in ‘unimportant’ fixtures.

He said of the rivalry: “I hope that will be the same this summer. Ireland has won most of the games against France but the most important ones, we win. I remember four years ago in Manchester we won the one we had to win.

“It was a crazy match, we finished the game with eight players and they were not able to win although they had done very well in the competition, drawing with Spain and England and losing only 1-0 against Holland. It was very cruel for them. But I think they never gave up because now they are playing in the A division and it’s deserved because they play at a good level.”

Becuwe has been getting an even greater insight into the Irish mindset in the past season, living and playing with Mikey Watt and Geoff McCabe, the latter of whom, he jokes, is becoming much more proficient in Spanish.

It has given him some empathy toward the Irish but he realises that, due to the intertwined fixtures of the two, France’s success will most likely have to come at Ireland’s expense.

Grouped together in Europe, their result will have a major impact on any potential Olympic hopes and, conversely, staying up in the top tier of continental competition.

“This summer, Ireland and France play five or six games and it’s not easy for the two teams because we are struggling for the same goal. I hope both teams will have some success but we know it will very difficult for both to achieve their dreams.

“I think Ireland has a strong team, most of them playing in the best leagues in the world and think they can reach their objective but I hope us French will deny them!”

The pair compete to potentially meet each other in the final of the Champions Challenge II on Saturday afternoon with Ireland facing Russia while hosts France play Scotland.
 
Stephen Findlater