06.06.2001 at 00:00 Tallinn
0 - 2
Republic of Ireland
Referee: Mr. M. M. Salomir (Romania
World Cup Qualifier / Prog-match
Republic of Ireland 2
Ireland showed the requisite professionalism in stretching their unbeaten record away from home to 11 matches.They dealt competently with the keen challenge of a determined Estonia here in somewhat surreal surroundings in Tallinn last night.
Irelands two first-half goals were sufficient for a win that confirmed their leadership of Group two of the World Cup qualifying tournament.
Estonia never looked capable of upsetting Irelands control of the game from the moment Richard Dunne fired in the first goal after just eight minutes.
When Ireland added a second through the impressive Matt Holland after 38 minutes, all tension was removed from a contest that had looked, in prospect, to be a difficult one. The result secure, Ireland could concentrate on compressing the game into Estonias half and reducing the threat to their own goal with sensible tactics.
It was, then, a job well done for while Estonias new stadium will clearly be a splendid theatre when it is completed, the towering image of three giant cranes above the wide-open stands merely confirmed that a match of this importance came too early for a facility still under construction.
The atmosphere generated by an attendance near the capacity of 9,000 was wafted to the skies and diluted to the extent that the game had more a carnival feel to it than a vital World Cup tie.
Opponents whose naiveté of football at this level meant they were often clumsy and therefore dangerous in the tackle only added to the unusual circumstances.
In addition, the playing surface was so pock-marked it would have taxed the skill of a lunar module pilot to make a smooth landing so it was impossible to roll the ball with any degree of confidence. The overhead route was the only option so the football was bound to be fragmented.
In all the circumstances then, it was a time for pragmatism rather than panache, a time to resist any temptation to elaborate and to concentrate on the practical.
This Ireland did with an efficiency that ensured their goal came under threat only in the closing minutes when a desperate Estonia charged forward with maniacal determination to try and salvage something from a plucky performance.
Irelands defence rose to the challenge, however, and apart from one incident when Staunton mis-placed an attempted clearance to Zelinski and he sent substitute Utritski in for a shot that was parried brilliantly by Given, Estonia did not come close.
The rebound off Given fell to Utritski again and this time he turned the ball back for Terehhov to mis-cue from 12 yards to let Ireland off the hook, but they earned this little bit of luck.
The manner in which they had squeezed much of Estonias optimism out of their challenge with an early drive that produced quick results bespoke a team well prepared, well-organised and focused on the immediate demands of the day.
Overall it was a triumph of planning for manager Mick McCarthy for he and an estimated 2,000 Irish fans were hugely encouraged by Irelands lively start and the impact of the surprise selection of Damien Duff at centre-forward in preference to Robbie Keane.
Duff, slight of frame but possessed of delicate skills and a lightning burst of speed, was a huge success as partner to Niall Quinn. His sniping runs and quick feet made him a difficult opponent and it was no surprise to hear Estonia manager, Dutchman Arno Pijpers, sing his praises after the game.
"Duff was very clever," he said when I asked him to identify an Irish player who impressed.
"He was quick and busy around our defenders and he was very dangerous. He surprised us with his work around Quinn and that was why our organisation was not so good in the first quarter."
Dunnes goal was, of course, a huge influence on the game and on the demeanour of the two teams. He scored his third goal for Ireland in his tenth international when Stauntons corner was headed back from outside the far upright by Quinn and Harte had a shot charged down. Dunne deflected the rebound home.
Irelands momentum was impressive in this period, with Quinns ability in the air of critical importance. A heavy tackle impeded his movement, however, and while he carried on gamely it was inevitable that he would be called ashore. Ireland would have found it extremely difficult to function without an effective target player.
Estonia played a part in dictating this approach for they kept two players wide on the touchlines with Zelinski the lone raider through the middle.
They succeeded to an extent in limiting the attacking contribution of Irelands full-backs, Carr and Harte, and with Ireland employing Kilbane as a support player for Quinn and then Doherty rather than an orthodox winger, most of Irelands attacks were down the centre.
The introduction of Gary Doherty for Quinn after 36 minutes helped Ireland maintain their drive and Hollands goal effectively settled matters. Carr linked with Harte after collecting Kellys throw and when the full-backs shot was charged down Holland drilled home the rebound from 22 yards.
The rest was elementary with Staunton marking his record 89th appearance with an impressive performance alongside the effective Richard Dunne.
The net effect of a good evenings work was to set up a decisive match with Netherlands in Dublin on September 1 when Irelands fate in this fascinating group should be finally settled.
Estonia (4-4-2); Kaalme; Saviauk, Stepanov, Piiroga, Urmas Rooba; Haavistu (Rahn), Reim, Kristal, Novikov; Zelinsky (Viikmae), Oper. Subs; Terehhov for Haavistu 49; Allas for Rooba 68; Ustritski for Novikov 72.
Ireland (4-4-2); Given (Newcastle Utd); Carr (Spurs), Dunne (Manchester City), Staunton (Aston Villa), Harte (Leeds Utd); Kelly (Leeds Utd), Holland (Ipswich Town), Kinsella (Charlton Athletic), Kilbane (Sunderland); Quinn (Sunderland), Duff (Blackburn Rovers). Subs; Doherty (Spurs) for Quinn 36; O Brien (Newcastle Utd) for Duff 88.
Referee; Mr. M. M. Salomir (Romania)