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France's renewed obsession, and toppling the host nation on their patch nothing new for O'Neill

Ben Blake has arrived in the city that will witness the Boys in Green take on Les Bleus at Euro 2016 this afternoon.

FIFA Ireland Compensation Henry seconds after his blatant handball in November 2009. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Ben Blake reports from Lyon

“WE WILL TRY to win this time… but not with the hand.”

The ticket inspector on the 10.07 TGV from Versailles Chantier to Gare de Lyon Part-Dieu grinned while gesturing with his palm, and it was immediately clear as day what he was referring to.

Our train ride south east from Île-de-France to the Rhône-Alpes region would end up taking five hours longer than had been expected due to a technical fault on the line, meaning a significant chunk of the Irish press pack were absent from yesterday’s pre-match press conferences.

Over the course of the extended journey, a father and son sitting across the way also discovered where this English-speaking group of passengers were from.

They politely enquired if we would be attending the Euro 2016 fixture between our two nations on Sunday before one predicted that Tony Parker was likely to play some part.

Not Paul Parker or Scott Parker, but Tony Parker — the French NBA star.

And so it seems that although the majority of Ireland and its footballer supporters (but not all) had finally put the hysteria and the subsequent fall-out that resulted from Thierry Henry’s infamous handball behind them some time ago, our French counterparts can not get enough of it right now.

The reason? Seven years on since that night in Paris produced one of the biggest controversies in world football, the teams are set to face off for the first time this afternoon.

To prove how big a story has become again over here, a French TV channel aired the entire game in question, a 2010 World Cup play-off second leg tie, the other night.

France v Republic of Ireland - UEFA Euro 2016 - Round of 16 - Republic of Ireland Training - Stade des Lumieres Parc Olympique Lyonnais. Source: Chris Radburn

Members of the French media showed up at Ireland’s training base in Versailles on Thursday and Friday with one question on their minds: Is this Ireland team on a revenge mission for Monsieur Henry’s antics?

One-by-one, the suggestions were batted away by players and management staff, who insisted it was forgotten about long ago and everyone had moved on.

Striker Daryl Murphy did give an interestingly-honest interview to the print section, however, when he admitted he wouldn’t think twice about doing the very same thing to help his country’s cause.

But for this current group, the prospect of beating the French on home soil and earning a place in the quarter-finals of the European championships is a far great motivator than getting our own back (although it would, admittedly, be nice).

They showed an incredible belief as well as buckets of commitment and a steely determination to see off the Italians in Lille and nothing less than that level of performance will do this time around.

Ireland can expect a partisan crowd at Parc Olympique Lyonnais due to what was described by Roy Keane as an “unfair” official allocation of 4,500 tickets for Ireland fans, and the attacking threat of Didier Deschamps’ side is also up their with the best, even if they looked a little disjointed in the group stages and so far have yet to really click into gear at this tournament.

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But the challenge O’Neill faces is not new to him as he’s done it all before — as a player. This week marks 34 years since O’Neill captained his national team to victory over the host nation at a major tournament.

Soccer - World Cup Spain 1982 - Group Five - Honduras v Northern Ireland O'Neill lining out at the 1982 World Cup. Source: S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

On 25 June, 1982, Northern Ireland weren’t given a hope when they lined out at Valencia’s Estadio Luis Casanova, but Gerry Armstrong would score the only goal of the game as Billy Bingham’s side toppled Spain.

O’Neill led from midfield in a team which also featured the likes of Norman Whiteside, Pat Jennings and Sammy McIlroy.

When I think about it there are definite similarities,” the Derryman said this week. “We went on a journey in 1982 that brought us up against the host nation, who we had to beat to get through.

“That was an immense moment for us and one that I will never forget.”

Now he has the chance to add what would undoubtedly be one of his greatest feats to a managerial CV that already features its fair share of underdog tales.

Listen to The42′s Ben Blake on the 98FM Euro 2016 Daily podcast throughout the tournament 

Good news from the Ireland camp on Ward and Walters ahead of France meeting

Ireland ready for penalties but at least three players banned as they ‘haven’t hit the target too often’

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Ben Blake

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