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World Cup handball pain in the past as John O’Shea eyes a perfect return to Paris

By Daniel McDonnell

John O'Shea is refusing to be haunted by the ghosts of the Stade de France as he prepares to return there with the Republic of Ireland.

The 35-year-old Sunderland defender is a veteran of the team which bowed out of the race for qualification for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa at the St Denis venue on a night when Thierry Henry's handball allowed France to squeeze through in a fiercely contested play-off.

Almost seven years on, O'Shea - one of only four men who started that night in November 2009 to be included in the current squad - and his team-mates will return to the stadium hoping for better fortunes when they open their Euro 2016 campaign against Sweden on Monday.

He said: "Look, it's a different opposition this time, obviously. We are playing Sweden, we are not playing France - yet - so it's a case of we go, we deal with Sweden there, they are the first team up.

"Hopefully we keep those performance levels up, but we get a change in the result, that's for sure."

The Republic squad headed for France yesterday to take up residence at the picturesque Trianon Palace hotel close to their training base at the Stade de Montbauron.

They did so knowing their first Group E game against the Swedes could prove crucial to their hopes of making it through to the knockout stages with Belgium and Italy waiting in the wings.

Getting the better of a side which boasts Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be easier said than done, but O'Shea insists Ireland cannot concentrate all their efforts on trying to stop the departing Paris St Germain superstar.

He said: "When you qualify for a major tournament, you know you are going to be facing quality players, and we are preparing already for Sweden. But watching some of the clips, it's not just the one player we have to watch out for.

"I know one or two of their other players from the Premier League and they have some good quality which shines as well from the balls that he plays into them, so if you are paying too much attention to one player, the other lads get the benefit of that.

"It's an all-round thing, you have to keep an eye on not just him because he is given almost a licence to roam.

"It's not just down to one (Republic) player either, it's the communication from the back four to the midfield, and that's going to be key."

For many of Ulsterman Martin O'Neill's players it will be their first taste of a major tournament, but O'Shea is confident his team-mates will cope.

The former Manchester United defender said: "All the boys have different ways of chilling out, but now we are so close to the game as well, that concentration steps up a little bit, the intensity and quality in training as well steps up.

"It's why you come away playing international football, to get that buzz, and it really increases when you land. When you get a glimpse of the buzz around Paris as well and seeing fans and stuff like that, all that increases."

Meanwhile, Republic of Ireland international Harry Arter has opened up about the injury which robbed him of a place in Euro 2016.

The Bournemouth midfielder put in a man-of-the-match display in the 1-1 draw with Holland last month and looked destined for a place in the 23-man squad for France.

Unfortunately for Arter, he picked up an injury ahead of the Dutch clash but played through the pain to impress and ended up doing further damage.

"I went away fully fit and I felt great," Arter said.

"I was just looking forward to try and impress and get into the squad. I'm not saying I definitely would have been included, but I had positive chats with the manager so it was really disappointing I couldn't make it.

"The game against Holland was a massive chance to prove myself that I could play at this level, I hadn't started before that game but I was pleased with my performance.

"I suffered the injury the day before the friendly, I just kicked a ball in training and felt my quad go. But I didn't want to say I was injured, I wanted to prove myself so I strapped it up so tight and took painkillers, praying it would go away.

"I did feel better after the game, but when I trained it was quite apparent I wouldn't be fine. As soon as I went for the scan I knew I wouldn't make it. It was tough to take."

Belfast Telegraph


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