O'Neill criticizes Ireland's ticket allocation for France
LYON, France (AP) Coach Martin O'Neill has questioned Ireland's ''unfair'' ticket allocation for Sunday's match against host France in the last 16 of the European Championship.
It rankles strongly with him that Irish fans should be so under-represented at the 58,000-seater Stade de Lyon.
''The ticket allocation is something that I do have a gripe about. It's totally disproportionate for a stadium of this size,'' O'Neill told a news conference on Saturday. ''For us or any team playing in the round of 16, to be allocated less than 5,000 tickets is pretty unfair.''
France qualified for the knockout stage after drawing 0-0 with Switzerland last Sunday, while Ireland only reached the last 16 on Wednesday night with a 1-0 win against Italy.
''I think there should have been a certain allocation left aside for the side who would make it here,'' O'Neill said. ''France have had that opportunity, having advanced three days before us ... France will have 95 percent of the crowd, we will have to fight that.''
O'Neill is confident his players have enough ''mental toughness'' to do so.
''We spurned a great chance with five minutes left against Italy,'' he said. ''But then Robbie Brady starts a move off and then finishes it. He showed no fear at all and that epitomized the spirit.''
O'Neill also hopes to see the ''same energy'' against France.
''We'll go into the game with some confidence on the back of the performance against Italy,'' he said. ''You don't want to go out of the competition meekly; you want to go out blazing if you can. But we want to stay in it.''
It is the first meeting between the two sides since Ireland lost a World Cup playoff to France in November, 2009 following a blatant handball by forward Thierry Henry that led to France qualifying.
Deschamps said ''it's a new story for both sides, it will have no bearing,'' while O'Neill did not even mention it in his news conference.
France has failed to live up to its pre-tournament billing as one of the favorites. But O'Neill cautioned against reading much into that, saying the French were low-key early on when they won the 1998 World Cup on home soil.
''France reminds me in some aspect of 1998. A lot of pressure to do well, but they improved as the competition went on,'' he said. ''This team might feel the same.''