29.05.2004 at 15:00 The Valley,England
3 - 0
Republic of Ireland
Referee: A D'Durso
Ogbeche (2) 35,69
Statto Ireland suffer heaviest defeat in 9 years
The Unity Cup produced a disunity of purpose in this Irish display at The Valley on Saturday.This was a long lesson in playing a second international game less than forty-eight hours after filling Lansdowne Road, particularly at the tail-end of the football season.
Brian Kerr wasn't looking for excuses after watching his nascent team ship the heaviest defeat of any Irish side in almost nine years, but the evidence was there for anyone to see.
Kenny Cunningham looked jaded and had his most nervous afternoon in an Irish shirt. His schoolboy error which gifted Nigeria a third goal typified his contribution. The centre-half overhit a pass back to his keeper, Nicky Colgan, and Inter Milan's Obafemi Martins seized the chance, his shot rebounding off Colgan and into the path of Paris St Germain striker Bartholomew Ogbeche.
It was Ogbeche's second goal, with Martins again providing the assist. The Inter youngster was the game's outstanding player, showing the same speed and trickery on his international debut that bamboozled Arsenal at Highbury last September.
The Valley was deserted, only 7,438 sufficiently enticed to part with £30, and the pitch was in bad shape, but neither the lack of atmosphere nor the state of the grass can explain the flatness of Ireland's football.
Cunningham apart, five other players from the Romania match started this game. Liam Miller was a shadow of the smooth-passing midfielder we witnessed in Lansdowne, while Robbie Keane struggled to muster his customary enthusiasm.
"I don't think there is any way you can compare our performance there, or the performance of players like Liam, to the performance on Thursday night," Kerr said afterwards. "It wasn't an ideal situation because we gave so much to win the match on Thursday. It was tough going from the start.
"There are some positives from the game - we played six players who had not started an international game. That has been a good thing, we have given some inexperienced players the chance to play. Players who mightn't establish themselves for a couple of years."
Of those players, Alan Lee and Colgan stood out. Even though he had to pick the ball out of his net three times, Colgan also made some excellent saves, including a brave and decisive effort when Martins' pace had left Cunningham and Gary Doherty for dead directly after the interval.
Lee tried valiantly, notwithstanding the fact that his striking partner seemed totally exhausted. However, the Cardiff striker was the team in microcosm - loads of energy and effort, but little imagination or thrust. Lee said: "I saw a lot more of the ball (than the Poland game), and I felt I was able to play to my strengths. But we are not used to losing 3-0. Fatigue was definitely a factor."
Stephen McPhail's display added further weight to the theory that the burgeoning midfield talent of Irish football is becoming the great enigma. Ireland's best chance, deep in the second half, fell to the Leeds man and although he struck the ball crisply, his shot rebounded off the woodwork.
The effects of the Romania game on Matt Holland's display was very evident, and with Mark Kinsella also struggling, Nigeria dictated the boiler room battle. But, it was Martins who stole the show. At only 19, the future looks bright. Martins created Ogbeche's two goals, and scored the other himself. The deadlock was broke after 37 minutes of controlled football from Nigeria. Martins turned away from Kinsella on the half-way line, sprinting towards the centre of the Irish defence. Doherty and Cunningham stood off as the Inter striker drew them before cushioning the ball to Ogbeche. Five minutes after the re-start, Martins again took possession on the half-way line.
This time, Cunningham did attempt to close him down, but Martins turned the Birmingham defender inside out, before finishing past Colgan with an effortless flick of his boot.
Colgan; Finnan, Cunningham, Doherty, Maybury; Miller, Holland, Kinsella, McPhail; Keane, Lee.
Subs: Clarke for Maybury, Rowlands for Miller (both half-time), Douglas for Holland (65 mins), Barrett for Keane (80 mins).
Subs: Yakubu for Martins (80 mins), Obiefule for Olofinjana (86 mins)
Ref: A D'Urso (Eng).