Though several of today’s World Cup Qualifiers are available from the comfort of your living room (assuming Peyton Manning has you signed up for DirectTV) — Norway v. Scotland (1pm EST, Setanta US) and Northern Ireland v. England (2pm EST, Setanta PPV), you’ll only be able to catch the Republic of Ireland’s clash with France via closed circuit at a limited number of taverns around the US. The Guardian’s Jon Brodkin writes that Roy Keane has fallen out with the national team’s manager — and no, this isn’t a reprint of a story from 2002.

Developing a siege mentality is often regarded as a healthy move in helping a team to achieve positive results. Republic of Ireland supporters will trust that is right. On the eve of the eagerly awaited qualifier against France, Brian Kerr’s players took an unprecedented collective vow of silence.

Officially that was in order to stay at their hotel and focus on such a crucial match. More realistically it was a protest at a report of a fall-out between Kerr and Roy Keane – firmly denied by the manager – and the fuss generated by some players going out, with permission, into the early hours of Saturday.

It all provided an unfortunate sideshow to the team’s biggest game for some time, and an interesting contrast to a fixture of similar importance four years ago. Before the visit of Holland in 2001 Keane issued a public rallying cry and Ireland won to take a huge step towards the World Cup.
The Manchester United captain will presumably do that work solely in private this time. Kerr has to hope tonight’s game does not prove as messy as the build-up because the course of this campaign is likely to determine whether his contract is extended beyond it.

The manager did talk yesterday, saying he did not feel under “undue pressure” and being bullish about his job. “I know I’m the best one to be doing it and I’m clear about how we’ve been approaching this game. The preparations have gone very well . . . I sense that the players are really relishing the challenge.”

His concluded with a rallying cry for the Ireland fans, who will be anything but silent. “Even people who normally go in suits and ties should wear the colours and get stuck in,” he said.

Anything less than a draw tonight is unthinkable for Ireland, even if defeat would not extinguish their World Cup hopes. The intrigue is heightened with France in an identical predicament and because no one is sure what to expect from a side who have stuttered but now have Zinedine Zidane and Claude Makelele back. Lilian Thuram, also lured out of retirement, is doubtful.

Add the sub-plot of a meeting between Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira, and even pre-match activity in the tunnel should be worth watching. The Keane-Kerr tiff story may have been dismissed but the Ireland midfielder will not shy from confrontation with his favourite sparring partner.

In a result from earlier today, the Czech Republic beat Armenia, 4-1,, narrowing the Netherlands’ lead in Group One. The Oranje will likely punch their ticket to Germany ’06 with a victory over Andorra later today.