17.04.2002 at 00:00 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
2 - 1
Referee: P Leuba (Switzerland)
Republic of Ireland 2 USA 1
Colin Healy emerged at the head of the queue of those on standby for World Cup duty in Japan with a performance of rich promise in the most demanding of circumstances at a waterlogged Lansdowne Road last night. Healy, on loan to Coventry City from Celtic, added further to his growing reputation as he slotted comfortably into the heart of Ireland's midfield in a contest that was never less than competitive.
The 22-year-old midfielder partnered Mark Kinsella and Matt Holland in turn and. over 90 minutes of energetic involvement, he played with an authority that belied his years and his lack of experience. His impact was such that manager Mick McCarthy might yet be forced to review his options for the World Cup party.
This match was always entertaining despite the constant rain and the difficult conditions and it was full of good news for Ireland. Rory Delap showed confidence and a sure touch on the right of midfield and it was fitting that Gary Doherty should have marked his return to competition with Ireland's winning goal.
Doherty has played only seven minutes of first team football in seven months for 'Spurs because of a broken leg. But he enjoyed his 20 minutes of action when he was introduced late into this match and his goal will be something to cherish as he continues his battle to recover his fitness.
Certain it is that after this Japan will hold no fears for either the USA or Ireland, even if the rainy season comes. Pools of water meant the pitch resembled a rice field in places but while reports suggest that Japan in June will see its share of rain, it will surely not be as uncomfortable as this. It was so cold as to be inhospitable.
Predictably the Irish welcome for the visitors helped warmed the atmosphere - except when the former Rangers player, Claudio Reyna, drew the reaction of the boorish element in a near-capacity attendance of 39,000.
The ties that bind were substantially reflected as well in the pre-match ceremony in which representatives of the NY Fire Department were presented with a cheque for €270,000 to supplement the 9;11 disaster fund.
Those who might have laboured under the misconception that this gesture was calculated to yield an immediate dividend in the form of a relaxed and maybe even a leisurely exercise once the referee set the football events in train, were soon disillusioned. The Americans were stern, focused and combative as ever and the mood of the contest was far removed from that of your average 'friendly'.
The USA are currently ranked 13th in the FIFA table and while this surely exaggerates their standing in the world order, there was ample evidence to show just how they have accumulated the positive results that got them there.
The Americans love nothing more than a 'Donnybrook' and Ireland quickly knew they were involved in a battle. To win then was quite an achievement, particularly when so many substitutions interrupted the pattern. Ireland introduced six at half-time and eight overall and the Americans were just as experimental.
What was most pleasing was the constant drive in the Irish performance, their willingness to engage the USA in a tough, physical battle and their determination to preserve their wonderful record at Lansdowne.
This stretched Ireland's unbeaten run at headquarters to eleven matches and they earned it fully. They were uniformly committed to the contest and while the existence of gallons of water on the surface ensured the football was inevitably fragmented, Ireland metaphorically rolled up their sleeves and scrapped for their return.
They were given the bonus of a cracking goal within six minutes of the start and briefly the score raised hopes of something spectacular. For Ireland were swift and accurate in their play early on and in Robbie Keane and Damien Duff they had a strike force that posed the Americans many questions.
They punched a huge hole in the USA defence as Rory Delap rolled the ball cleverly into the path of Steve Finnan in an advanced right wing position.
He clipped the ball into the penalty area and Mark Kinsella was airborne as he volleyed the ball in from ten yards.
The USA refused to yield and their back four was especially effective despite the constant probings of Keane and Duff.
They were not flattered by their 34th minute equaliser when John O'Brien, of Ajax, spun a left wing corner into the penalty area and the athletic Eddie Pope out-jumped the defence to head in.
There were only seven minutes left when Gary Doherty celebrated his return from a horrendous broken leg injury to claim the winning goal. Steve Staunton's perfectly flighted free from the right found Doherty stretching over a defender at the far post to turn the ball in as the fans rose in tribute.
Winning, it is said, becomes a habit. Long may it last for an Irish team that again played with growing confidence.
IRELAND (4-4-2): Given; Finnan (Kelly 46), O'Brien (Cunningham 46), Breen (Doherty 70), Harte (Staunton 46); Delap, Healy, Kinsella (Holland 46), Kilbane (Reid 46); Robbie Keane (Morrison 82), Duff (Connolly 46).
USA (4-4-2): Friedel; Sanneh, Pope, Berhalter (Vanney 46), Agoos; Reyna (Hejduk 70), Armas, Stewart (Donovan 46), O'Brien (Lewis 46); McBride (Moore 46), Mathis (Wolff 62).
Referee: P. Leuba (Switzerland).