30.04.2003 at 00:00 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
1 - 0
Referee: M Mc Curry (Scotland)
Ireland 1 Norway 0
The Damien Duff show entranced 32,643 delighted fans at Lansdowne Road and bemused Norway as Ireland resumed normal operations at headquarters in an interesting if unexceptional friendly.A win was important to Ireland, battling earnestly to restore reputations left damaged by defeat in their last appearance here against Switzerland. It was also critical to the successful launch of manager Brian Kerr’s career at Lansdowne.
Ireland delivered, principally because of the genius of the ebullient Duff and his captivating range of precious skills. And the positive vibes engendered by a return to winning ways were enhanced by the welcome news from the European championship tie in Georgia.
It is fair to say that while Kerr’s heart was at Lansdowne, his mind was in Tbilsi. Small blame to him or his players if they were a little distracted by news which superseded anything that might occur at Lansdowne.
An unpredictable series of results has suddenly brought Portugal 2004 into focus again for Ireland.
So when, you might ask, did Ireland celebrate a result that placed them last of five teams in a qualifying group? When that result meant Russia were beaten, that’s when.
The victory of Georgia was greeted with typical elan by Kerr: “It’s fantastic news. The victory for Georgia opens up the whole group and I am delighted.
“That result puts our win there last month in its proper light. Georgia drew with Switzerland and beat Russia in the stadium where we won, so that shows how important our victory was.”
The task now for Ireland is to win the next three fixtures in the championship. All of them are at home, to Albania and Georgia in June, and to Russia in September. A win in all three matches would leave Ireland within touching distance of qualification before the final match away to Switzerland.
There’s the rub. Ireland must construct an effective attacking game to deliver the results they need. For certain, the delicious, nervous edge that is the natural companion to a competitive occasion will help them lift their game but they will need a more fluid performance than this if they are to prevail.
The match against Norway was not a comfortable test, the visitors were too good for that. Winning the match represented a good return for Ireland and the experiments indulged in by Kerr were interesting, but the overriding impression was that Ireland were too dependent yet again upon Damien Duff as their creative source.
He operated in a central position behind strikers Robbie Keane and David Connolly, and as ever, his contribution was dynamic. His sniping runs always caused Norway problems and it was significant that it was he who claimed the only goal.
It came in the 18th minute after good work on the right wing by Keane and Carr. Keane held off Ronny Johnsen to set up Carr for the cross, and although goalkeeper Olsen parried Duff’s header, he could not hold the ball and Duff drove the rebound in.
His impact was limited, however, by the inability of Ireland’s strikers to make much impression on Norway’s rugged defenders. Ireland’s principle difficulty in coping with Norway stemmed from the sheer physicality of a powerful visiting team.
The imposing presence of the Norwegians could be gauged by the fact that Valencia’s striker John Carew was not the tallest man on the pitch.
When they grouped about the Irish penalty area for the set pieces, they resembled a stand of Norwegian pines and Ireland did well to cope.
They had their moments of luck, particularly when Carew moved from his position wide on the right to join Tore Andre Flo at centre-back late in the game. But they battled with a will and defended sensibly to deny them a clear-cut opportunity.
In doing so, several players enhanced their reputations, most notably centre- backs Gary Breen and Richard Dunne. Breen maintained the high standard he set in the World Cup and Dunne slotted so comfortably into the role that he established himself as a credible alternative to Kerr’s first choice pair.
The use of Duff in the middle was sufficiently successful to suggest that Kerr has a viable option here as well, and it is one he is likely to return to for Kevin Kilbane had an excellent game on the left of midfield.
Kilbane’s strength in the air was again an invaluable weapon for Ireland and his support of Ian Harte encountering Carew and a busy midfielder in Tommy Larsen, was important.
Inevitably, however, one was left with the impression that Ireland’s work would have benefited from the inclusion of a tall striker after the fashion of the retired Niall Quinn. But while the team continues to work as diligently as they did against Norway, they will produce results. After Georgia, they now have every incentive.
IRELAND (4-3-1-2): Given (Colgan 60); Carr, Breen, Dunne, Harte (Finnan 60); Holland, Kinsella (Carsley 65), Kilbane (Quinn, Sheffield Weds, 85); Duff (Healy 74); Keane (Crowe, Bohemians 89), Connolly (Lee, Rotherham, 74).
NORWAY (4-4-2): Olsen (Viking Stavanger) (Holtan, Grenland 46); Basma (Rosenborg) (Alex Has, Grenland 55), Hangeland (Viking), Johnsen (Aston Villa) (Hansen, Arminia Bielefeld 46), Bergdolmo (Ajax); Larsen (Nurnberg), Andersen (Wimbledon) (F Johnsen, 89), Leonhardsen (Aston Villa), Iversen ('Spurs) (Rudi, 65); Carew (Valencia), Rushfeld (Austria Vienna) (Andre Flo, Sunderland 46).
Referee: M McCurry (Scotland).