Martin O’Neill has tipped France as potential World Cup winners despite his former team-mate Age Hareide describing them as “nothing special”.
Denmark boss Hareide will lead his team into Group C battle with the French in Russia having seen his team comprehensively dispatch O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland in the play-offs in November.
However, while he has played down the chances of Didier Deschamps’ team making a significant impact, his Ireland counterpart is not so sure.
O’Neill, who will send the Republic into a friendly against France in Paris on Monday evening, said with a smile: “Did he say that? Well, I know the Danish coach – I used to play with him. He’s a very nice man – he wasn’t such a great player himself.
“It’s highly dangerous to talk about that. I think the French are individually well-equipped. The French have been strong for some time.
“He may be referring to, perhaps… there’s a feeling sometimes that the French are not always united – all we needed was the example of (Adrien) Rabiot leaving the squad.
“Personally, I think they’re very strong. France, when they get together, will be strong in this competition.
“They will be disappointed to lose the final of European Championship, but overall they have as good a chance as anybody of winning the World Cup.
“The main thing is the extra experience they have had over the last couple of years. Qualification was fine. I disagree with the Danish manager. Individually, France have got very strong players indeed.”
O’Neill, who played with Hareide at Manchester City and Norwich, is likely to field a largely inexperienced team at the Stade de France almost two years after the sides last met in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 finals.
Back then, Robbie Brady fired Ireland into a shock lead before they eventually lost 2-1.
Asked if they would be taking it a little easier this time around, he replied: “Well, we are unable to take things easy.
“It will be a big test for us, obviously. France are going to the World Cup. It’s a big preparation game for them, and I know they’ve got couple of other games before head to Russia.
“For us, it’s great preparation for the UEFA Nations League coming up in September, October and November. It’s a big game for us and for a number of the inexperienced players we have in the squad.”