19.08.2003 at 00:00 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
2 - 1
Referee: K Vidlak (Czech Rep)
Ireland 2 Australia 1
Ireland maintained their reputation and unbeaten run under Brian Kerr with a spirited second half comeback that delighted 37,200 spectators in a friendly international that produced rare entertainment at Lansdowne Road. John O’Shea scored the first goal of his senior career to help Ireland regain parity in the 73rd minute of a contest, predictably disputed with typical Australian aggression. Ireland made it seven matches without loss as Clinton Morrison snatched a winner.
Morrison’s goal brought his personal tally to five from 11 matches for Ireland. But Australia played so well that Ireland were involved in a battle for survival for much of the game.
Ireland struggled to settle and the reason was soon obvious. The sharp hunger pangs for championship points that eat at your innards were missing from their approach. Not so Australia’s. Hungry? They were ravenous.
Team captain, Paul Okon, was twice whistled for dangerous tackles in the opening 30 minutes, on John O’Shea and Robbie Keane. His late tackle on O’Shea almost sparked a row and he drew a yellow card when he up-ended Duff two minutes into the second half.
Australia’s ambition was glaringly obvious, the value of a result against Ireland manifest in their competitiveness. After beating England they were eager to confirm that form with a triumph here.
Ireland were guilty, perhaps, of underestimating them in the opening half. Australia were quicker into their stride, brisk and efficient in their work with team skipper Okon an effective fulcrum in central midfield.
They would not have been flattered had they scored twice in the opening thirty minutes. Marco Bresciano wrong-footed the Irish defence, spinning as sharply as a tango dancer to hammer a left-foot shot against the underside of the bar after just 13 minutes.
They should have edged in front eight minutes later when the Irish defence was exposed by a swift clearance from goalkeeper Schwarzer. He volleyed the ball from the edge of his penalty area and Ireland’s defence was too shallow as Danny Tiatto ran clear. Tiatto’s response was weak as he shot over the advancing Colgan.
Ireland were too relaxed by far, self-indulgent on the ball, a little patronising in their attitude to more intense opponents.
There was much to admire in Australia’s play. The threat of Mark Viduka was always obvious; a surprise was the sophistication of Marco Bresciano as his partner. Good technique, quick-fire movement and astute use of the ball showed just why Parma paid £22m to Empoli for his signature.
Gradually Ireland emerged from their dormant state. The fifteen minutes before half-time saw Ireland play some sparkling football, the elegant Duff and the sniping runs of Robbie Keane troubling Australia’s defenders.
Keane lost a great chance when he mis-kicked a clever pull-back from Stephen Car after 25 minutes and the picture looked bleak for Ireland when he was forced off after extending Mark Schwarzer following Mark Kinsella’s shrewd flick over the top just before the break. Happily Keane’s ankle ligaments are reportedly not too seriously damaged.
The Australian goal, in the 50th minute, was simplicity itself with Mark Lazaridis crossing superbly from the left. Andy O’Brien mis-cued his attempted volley and the ball spun kindly for Viduka to steer it past Nicky Colgan from six yards.
Ireland’s pride was hurt, the indignity of losing a goal before their own fans provoking an angry response.
Duff, of course a central figure, and his colleagues played at a more urgent pace to dictate the trend. Yet Australia continued to pose a danger with Bresciano now a lively creative force in central midfield alongside his former school colleague, Vince Grella.
Ireland’s defence again lapsed disastrously in the 59th minute. This time Viduka surged clear on to Bresciano’s delicate pass but Colgan was brave as he dived at his feet to deflect the shot and he showed agility to regain his feet and beat away Bresciano’s shot from the rebound.
Ireland’s superiority became more evident as the game aged, however, with Colin Healy once again demonstrating his rich promise alongside the hard-working Mark Kinsella. Although Duff was finally withdrawn after 73 minutes, the momentum generated by Ireland was maintained by substitutes who were doggedly persistent.
Ireland were level before Duff opted out, their equalising goal in the 73rd minute a sheer delight in its simplicity and efficiency. Ian Harte’s free from the right of the penalty area found O’Shea closing on the near post for a header that flew past Schwarzer.
So to the perfect climax in the 80th minute when again the remarkable Clinton Morrison proved a match-winner. Harte struck a magnificent cross-field pass that carried for 40 yards before it dropped in front of Morrison and although his touch past Schwarzer from 18 yards took an age to creep inside the post it carried just enough pace to beat Vidmar’s despairing dive.
Ireland (4-4-2): Colgan; Carr, (Harte 57) Breen (O’Brien 46), Cunningham (Dunne 84), O’Shea; Finnan (Kilbane 66), Holland (Healy 19), Kinsella, Duff (Quinn, Sheffield Weds 79); Doherty (Morrison 57), Keane (Connolly 45).
AUSTRALIA (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Neill, Foxe, Popovic, Lazaridis; Emerton, Okon (Grella 66), Bresciano, Tiatto; (Vidmar (69) Viduka (Aloisi 78), Chipperfield.
Referee: K. Vidlak (Czech Republic).