Sunday 4 December 2016

Vincent Hogan: After predictable draw, road to France remains heavily mined

Published 13/06/2015 | 19:20

For all the epochal noise, for all the thunderously high energy, this was an opportunity forsaken.

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Martin O'Neill's body-language articulated that at the end. He looked a coiled spring on the line, the realisation descending upon a packed Aviva that one, solitary point was never going to be enough for Ireland here. Automatic qualification for the 2016 Euro finals is surely a distance beyond our reach now.

And that makes O'Neill a manager under intense pressure. His team gave it everything, but a careless start to the second-half continued the trend of needless sloppiness infecting the hard work of an honest but limited team.

O'Neill's refusal to start Shane Long's pace against a pedestrian Scottish back four was bound to be a post-game talking-point. True, Daryl Murphy was the one fit, in-form, goalscorer available to the Irish manager but those goals were all accumulated at Championship level. Would one of the Premier League's quickest strikers not have asked more awkward questions of Russell Martin and Charlie Mulgrew?

The Irish team picked was a big one, offering palpable hope of set-piece menace. But in a must-win game, the early worry had to be that O'Neill's selection was a little conservative, a little tentative even.

Two warm-up games failed to decant a single goal between them and the suspicion that Ireland might now be siding with a battering-ram approach was disconcerting.

Scotland's Shaun Maloney celebrates scoring his side's equalising goal.
Scotland's Shaun Maloney celebrates scoring his side's equalising goal.
Shay Given looks on as Scotland's Shaun Maloney scores his side's equalising goal.
13 June 2015; Shaun Maloney, Scotland, shoots to score his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Rod Stewart watches the action during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin Niall Carson/PA Wire
13 June 2015; Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland players celebrate after Jonathan Walters scored his side's first goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland players celebrate after Jonathan Walters scored his side's first goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Robbie Brady, Republic of Ireland, in action against Matt Ritchie, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Scotland's Russell Martin and Ireland's John Walters battle for the ballduring the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Scotland's Shaun Maloney and Ireland's Seamus Coleman (right) battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium
Football - Republic of Ireland v Scotland - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 13/6/15 Republic of Ireland fan before the game Reuters / Cathal McNaughton Livepic
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland team stand for a team picture ahead of the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin.
13 June 2015; Preparation of the carpet and signage before the start of the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland supporters cheer on their side during the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin.
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland fans show their support during the national anthems. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Wes Hoolahan, Republic of Ireland, in action against Matt Ritchie, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin.
13 June 2015; The two teams stand for the national anthems. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Scotland supporters singing 'Flower of Scotland' at the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin.
13 June 2015; The two teams stand for the national anthems before the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; The Republic of Ireland team observe a minute's applause before the start of the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Ireland supporters during the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Wes Hoolahan, Republic of Ireland, in action against Matt Ritchie, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin.
Scotland's Russell Martin and Ireland's John Walters battle for the ballduring the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Niall Carson /PA Wire.
President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Nick Potts/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland players line up prior to kick-off during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Nick Potts/PA Wire
Scotland's James Morrison (left) and Republic of Ireland's Seamus Coleman in action during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Nick Potts/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan (left) challenges Scotland's Matt Ritchie during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Nick Potts/PA Wire
A Scotland fan shows his support during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Nick Potts/PA Wire
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; The Republic of Ireland team before the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; A minute's appluase before the start of the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Seamus Coleman, Republic of Ireland, in action against James Morrison, left, and Scott Brown, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland defence clock a shot by Steven Naismith, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; James McCarthy, Republic of Ireland, is spoken to by referee Nicola Rizzoli after a clash with Scott Brown, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Craig Forsyth, Scotland, in action against Daryl Murphy, Republic of Ireland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; David Marshall, Scotland, in action against Daryl Murphy, Republic of Ireland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; The Scotland team before the match. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, in action against Craig Forsyth, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland's James McCarthy closes his eyes during the National Anthem. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill ahead of the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Scotland's Russell Martin (left) and Ireland's Robbie Brady during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Scotland's Russell Martin (centre) points at Ireland's Robbie Brady during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland's James McCarthy is shown a yellow card for a challenge on Scotland's Russell Martin during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Nick Potts/PA Wire
Scotland's Russell Martin with a bloody nose after a challenge by Republic of Ireland's James McCarthy during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Nick Potts/PA Wire
Scotland fans in the stands during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Nick Potts/PA Wire
Scotland's Shaun Maloney and Ireland's Seamus Coleman (right) battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Scotland's Russell Martin and Ireland's John Walters battle for the ballduring the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Nick Potts/PA Wire
Scotland's Alan Hutton (left) and Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan in action during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Nick Potts/PA Wire
FAI chief executive John Delaney (right) with partner Emma English in the stands during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Nick Potts/PA Wire
13 June 2015; Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, during an altercation with Scott Brown, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, in action against Craig Forsyth, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Scotland supporters cheer on their side during the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Pictured is Seán Hickey, aged 8, from Ratoath, Co. Meath, during the pre-match ceremony. Seán won a McDonald’s Future Football competition to become a flag bearer for the crucial Ireland v Scotland European Championship Qualifier at the Aviva Stadium. David Maher / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Pictured is Taylor Lombard, aged 11, from Ardsallagh, Co.Waterford, during the pre-match ceremony. Taylor won a McDonald’s Future Football competition to become a flag bearer for the crucial Ireland v Scotland European Championship Qualifier at the Aviva Stadium. David Maher / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, shoots to score his side's first goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; James McCarthy, Republic of Ireland, in action against Alan Hutton, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Wes Hoolahan, Republic of Ireland, in action against Alan Hutton, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Scotland players celebrate their equalising goal scored by Shaun Maloney, second left. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland supporters cheer after their side's first goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Shay Given, Republic of Ireland goalkeeper looks on as Scotland's Shaun Maloney scores his side's equalising goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill reacts to the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Daryl Murphy, Republic of Ireland, in action against Alan Hutton, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, peals away to celebrate his side's opening goal of the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Daryl Murphy, Republic of Ireland, in action against Charlie Mulgrew, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, right, celebrates scoring his side's opening goal of the game with teammates. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Marc Wilson, Republic of Ireland, celebrates his teammate Jonathan Walters' opening goal of the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; A Republic of Ireland supporter reacts to chants for his side. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; A Scotland fan reacts to the Republic of Ireland goal during he first half. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin.
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland supporters cheer on their side during the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; A general view of the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; A general view of the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Daryl Murphy, Republic of Ireland,goes up for a high ball with Charlie Mulgrew, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Jonathon Walters, Republic of Ireland, in action against James Morrison, Scotland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall tips a looping header over the bar. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; Republic of Ireland players celebrate their side's opening goal of the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
13 June 2015; The two goalscorers Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, and Shaun Maloney, Scotland, vie for the ball. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

That said, Murphy and John Walters seemed happy to inter-change at the top of the formation and they threatened from the off when the former's 2nd minute knock-on was almost dinked into the latter's path by Wes Hoolahan. Everything about Ireland in those early flurries was an expression of physicality, even James McCarthy coming through the back of Scott Brown as a pointed act of self-assertion.

The full-backs were playing high too, Ireland forcing the early tempo in a way that had the Scots looking occasionally besieged. But could the hosts thread any real creativity into the aggression?

This has been the interminable question asked of O'Neill's Ireland. What was the team's technical identity? Irish sides have seldom been found wanting for competitive integrity, but where was the evidence of tactical progression?

With time on the ball always likely to be at a premium here, the manager's input had to be more than the mere ratcheting of emotion. There had to be evidence of a plan.

Did we get that? Did we see a performance stamped with O'Neill's philosophy, whatever that might be?

Well, the formation was a jumble of sorts, the absence of a conventional left-sided midfielder leaving Robbie Brady a relatively solitary figure down that flank. Yet, the high energy of the team kept presenting bodies into the areas most needed and Murphy's presence was offering a formidable outlet.

The big Waterford man's imprint was all over the opening goal, his looping header forcing the concession of a corner from which another Murphy header drew David Marshall's parry that fell to the grateful feet of Walters. The Stoke man deserved that 37th minute score for that familiar work ethic on show down a right flank that always promised Irish progress.

That said, within the half-hour, both McCarthy and Glenn Whelan had been booked, Ireland sometimes treading a fine line between high application and dark recklessness. Neither censure brooked real argument either, a reflection of the general tenor of a contest flaring with white-hot intensity.

The crowd loved it, of course, seeing - at last - an Irish team playing to the highest of tempos. But there was always the threat of a high physical cost too and, as the teams went in at half-time, you had to feel a second goal would be required to make the contest safe.

So it came to pass too. Gordon Strachan, predictably, had shuffled his pack, bringing on the electric Ikechi Anya for Matt Richie, but the requisite paperwork had barely been completed before the Scots were level. It was a sickening concession, Shaun Maloney's curling shot deflecting cruelly off John O'Shea's back past a wrong-footed Shay Given.

So, barely sixty seconds after the resumption, O'Neill's half-time message had, essentially, been decommissioned.

The goal had a puncturing effect on the atmosphere, emboldening the Scots but infecting the home team and supporters with tangible anxiety. Soon after, word came through from Warsaw that Poland had taken the lead against Georgia and, suddenly, the sense of Mardi Gras had evapourated.

Now the onus was on O'Neill to recalibrate things, but few would have anticipated the introduction of a winger, James McClean, for a holding midfielder, Whelan. It seemed a maverick decision, but would it reclaim the necessary momentum?

He also introduced Robbie Keane for Hoolahan, a tacit acknowledgement that the Tallaght man's guile and natural goal-poaching instinct might now be the best hope of rescuing a victory. Long, too, got on for the closing ten minutes, replacing Murphy. But this wasn't about technical adjustment now. It was about simply piling bodies forward, hoping to force a Scottish mistake.

Brady's set-piece deliveries offered intermittent hope, but the game was locked in a thrashing stalemate now. The Scots looked happy to deal with high crosses, the Irish seemed ill-equipped to summon anything more refined.

And so it tapered out into the draw that most predicted. A brave performance by the Irish, but limited too. Just not enough to give O'Neill the break he desperately needed. The road to France, thus, remains heavily mined.

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