11.06.2002 at 20:30 Yokohama
0 - 3
Republic of Ireland
Referee: Falla Ndoye
World Cup Finals-match
90th Cap for Niall Quinn, Lee Carsley 20th Cap
Ireland 3 Saudi Arabia 0
A typhoon named Robbie engulfed Saudi Arabia as Ireland kicked up a storm en route to the second phase of the World Cup in Tokyo’s cavernous International stadium last night. The tsunami typhoon predicted for the Yokohama area skipped by but no combination of climatic conditions could have been as devastating for Saudi as the whirlwind created by the dynamic Robbie Keane and his ebullient band.
Ireland were magnificent, putting behind them a dismal first half performance to scale new heights in the second with an attacking performance of real class and extravagance.
They out-played Saudi, playing fluid, attractive football to create the goals they needed to advance to the final 16. In establishing their substantial international credentials in the most demanding of all arenas, they set up a series of glittering Irish records.
Never before has an Irish team compiled five points in the opening phase of a major championship tournament; never before has an Irish team scored more than one goal in any game in the finals and never before has an Irish team succeeded in marching into the second round of the World Cup with an unbeaten record.
It was breath-taking to watch Ireland play with such grace and urgency in that second half. Their football was brimful of exciting things; it was sharp, adventurous, inventive... it was altogether too volatile a force for Saudi to contain.
Robbie Keane set the standard after his magnificent opening goal within seven minutes of kick-off. The precocious young striker, who boasts of coming from ‘Tallaghtfornia’, was a buzz-saw of activity; forever wheeling, darting and teasing the Saudi defenders to the point of distraction.
He failed to add to his early goal but his impact was enormous and hugely beneficial. Add to his delightful contribution the genius of Damien Duff and you had an attacking force of cyclonic dimensions. Duff, once again, was irresistible.
How fortunate were Ireland to have two youngsters of such genuine skill, of such wit and imagination. Blessed with polished technique, both elusive and swift, they were individually superb and, in tandem, formidable. How appropriate that Duff should have opened his World Cup scoring account on this night, even if he was fortunate that goal-keeper Al Deayea fumbled his shot into the net.
There was more, much more to admire about Ireland’s performance. It is true that after Ireland’s explosive start they retreated into an over-cautious shell of conservatism that surrendered control of the game to Saudi Arabia for 30 minutes of fragmented play.
They were confused because they did not know how to adapt their formation to counter Saudi, who flooded central midfield with players, so Mark Kinsella and Matt Holland were submerged in a rising tide.
Ireland were understandably conservative because with the possibility that a one-nil win would see them qualify they were seduced by thoughts of defending that position. Hence there were four Irish defenders arraigned behind one, lone, Saudi centre-forward.
Their football was fragmented because they could not thread their passes through the supermarket crush of Saudis in midfield. They grew ever more wasteful of possession, ever more careless in their passing, ever more vulnerable to fleet-footed and skilful dribblers like Al Temyat and centre-forward Al Yami.
The Saudis were dangerous as individuals, happily for Ireland, not as effective as a united, team force. In the face of the rising cadence of Ireland’s football in the second half, the increasing pulse, the developing rhythm, the Saudis grew ever more disheartened.
So we luxuriated in an Irish team playing with rare swagger and style throughout the second half. The break was utilised effectively for Ireland resumed with a bias towards a 3-5-2 formation. Gone was Ian Harte, Kevin Kilbane played a more withdrawn role to compensate. Damien Duff was invited to desert the cubicle confines of an over-crowded penalty area for the vast plains of the flank.
Niall Quinn came in to act as fulcrum for the Irish attack and suddenly everything fell into rhythmical, orderly shape.
The first of the game had been inspiring. Steve Staunton’s glorious pass flew 40 yards to reach Gary Kelly at outside right.
He volleyed it cleverly across the penalty area and Robbie Keane’s strike was explosive - a volley from 16 yards.
Ireland’s second, after 61 minutes, was equally as good. Gary Breen - so consistently brilliant in this tournament as to challenge for top billing -interposed himself with authority between two defenders to reach yet another superb free from Staunton to deflect the ball in, on the volley, off the outside of his foot.
It was a finish calculated to make any striker proud and even if Ireland’s first two goals were of exquisite quality, neither gave more joy than that claimed by the magnificent Duff in the 87th minute. Duff took Matt Holland’s incisive pass to shoot home off the hands of the discomfited Al Deayea.
What bliss for Ireland and their thousands of fans in a remarkable attendance of 65,320. You can bet there were not many from Saudi Arabia in the audience for this vast bowl of a stadium was ringed by Ireland’s green army and it reverberated to the excited sounds of a football community in typical, gaelic, celebration.
Roll on Suwon and the sophisticated senors of Spain.
SUPPOSE we’ll have to start calling him Captain Stantastic now. Not that he’s the kind of guy to court the headlines. Steve Staunton, 101 caps not out, and known affectionately to one and all as Stan, sums up Ireland’s heroic endeavours in his usual no frills way.
“What can you say? We’ve come here, tough group, gave ourselves a chance and we finished if off — not in great style, it probably wasn’t our best performance — but I think in the second half we made it a bit more comfortable and in the end we deserved our victory.”
It’s pointed out to the captain that it’s been a day of seismic upheavals in the World Cup, with both the World and European, and the African champions, going out of the tournament. Yet, the Irish are still going strong.
“It’s that funny old saying, you’ll never beat us,” says Staunton. “It’s a marvellous achievement, the first time for a lot of these players. For me, it’s the last 16 of the World Cup again. Been here three times, three times we’ve made it through the group. This is up there with the other ones. We’ve come out of a group up against the Germans, the African champions and now Saudi Arabia, who we knew weren’t that bad, after the two games we had against Iran. We knew it was going to be a tough group but we accomplished our goals.”
But only after a worrying first half, despite what should have been the solid boost of Robbie Keane’s early goal. “Yeah, we got a bit erratic with our passing, probably got a bit edgy, whatever, but second half, I think we settled down. At the start of the second half, big Quinny made a difference, gave us the option we probably needed against them — they weren’t the best at the back in the air — and we got the second goal through another cross.”
As ever, keeping them out, not putting them in, was uppermost in the Villa man’s mind. “With the 1-0 lead at half-time, we went out there making sure not to concede a goal. I always felt confident one of the others (Germany or Cameroon) would beat each other. I didn’t think that game was going to be a draw, and it would have been criminal had we drawn tonight and gone out because of a silly lapse of concentration. So it was more important we kept a clean sheet tonight, than win two or three. But that was nice.”
A word for the last line of defence? “Shay was always there when we needed him. How he keeps his concentration at times is brilliant. He’s fully focused and whenever he’s called upon he’s been brilliant.”
And, while he’s handing out plaudits, what about the captain’s own involvement in the first two goals, not least of which was that raking pass to Gary Kelly in the build-up to Robbie Keane’s opener? The answer is typical, uncompromising Stan — with just a hint of follow through for the critics.
“That was an added bonus. I was more pleased with the clean sheet to be honest with you. And three points. We haven’t scored more than one goal in the World Cup, so we were told, and we were struggling to score goals, and this, that and the other. The first goal was a good goal, a good finish, but I think we had a few good moves, and were unlucky maybe not to score one or two more. But, can’t be greedy. We’re delighted with three nil and we’re moving onto Korea.”
Once there, Staunton expects to be coming up against an old adversary. “I don’t see Spain losing to South Africa. I would fully be expecting to play Spain on Sunday. We’ll see what they can throw at us. They have a tough game before that and hopefully the extra day’s rest will help us.”
And who knows how many more Irish will be along to lend a helping voice? “Each game, the fans are just excelling. There’s been a lot of Japanese support as well, but to see all the old banners and the fans from back home, is just unbelievable. It was like a home game again, green white and gold all around.”
With the game just over and the party about to begin, would part of him like to be in Dundalk? “Well, of course, but I’m glad we’re going on to Korea. It’d be nice to see a tape of what’s going on — though I think I can visualise what’s going on. Good luck to them, they fully deserve it.”
And how long can this adventure continue? “We’ll see. We’ll go to Sunday. And go from there.”
FRANK Stapleton believes Damien Duff has been the star of Ireland’s World cup campaign. “The result has lifted the whole country,” said Stapleton, after watching Robbie Keane, Gary Breen and Duff find the net in Yokohama to set up a second round clash with Spain or South Africa on Sunday.
“Duff has had the edge and he has frightened defenders to death. I just think was the one who was going to be the biggest star for Ireland. The goal was a fluke but he deserved it more than anyone. I just always believed they would get through. If they hadn’t played very well and got through no one would have cared. The Spanish will be worried.”
Stapleton thinks Ireland will not be fazed by the quality of opposition they now face. He said: “Ireland are one of the teams no-one wants to meet because they are playing well.
“The Spanish will be very wary because they (Ireland) are an emerging team whose level is going up all the time in terms of world value — they can’t underestimate them.”
FAI chief executive Brendan Menton heaped praise on manager Mick McCarthy and insisted his decision to send inspirational skipper Roy Keane back home was justified.
He said: “Mick has done a fantastic job and it was a very difficult decision to make as a manager, but there is no doubt now he made the right decision.
“To come through with the African champions going out of the group and come through in second place is down to Mick and his squad and the way he set out the team.
“It’s hot out here, but he’s done a fantastic job and we’re proud of him and for him tonight. He truly deserves the success.”
Menton is now looking forward to the likely second stage clash with much-fancied Spain and insists they have no reason to fear anybody.
He added: “In a one against one knockout situation we won’t fear anybody. Spain will obviously be favourites, but I think with the spirit in the squad and support we’ll get in Korea we don’t fear anybody.”
Former Republic of Ireland and Tottenham defender Chris Hughton believes the Irish could spring a surprise in their second round match — whoever they face.
“Spain will be a difficult game. They are very much the underachievers in European football but they have a wonderful team and on their day they can beat anyone.
“But you can never take anything away from the Irish — they are very much capable of winning.”
Hughton was full of praise for the squad after yesterday’s victory. “They went into the game knowing what they had to do and there are no easy games — the Germany result (8-0) was very much a one-off against Saudi.
“The Republic scored the early goal, which was of great benefit and after that it was a very, very good performance. It is difficult to dominate a game for 90 minutes and once Saudi conceded the early goal they had to get better and there was going to be a period where they (Ireland) couldn’t dominate but what they didn’t do was concede.
‘‘It is a wonderful day for the team. A lot of people forget the qualifying group they came out of.”