Monday 17 December 2018

Keane hits hat-trick as clinical Irish enjoy one for the Road

COLM KEYS

Rep of Ireland 5 San Marino 0 IT was obvious from the outset. The San Marino national anthem had almost concluded when all of their eleven players had eventually reacted to captain Andy Selva's gesture that they should link arms for the duration.

There were still one or two detached when sections of the Irish crowd were beginning to clap politely as the song wound down. With organisation like that, it was an ominous sign of things to come.

For all Steve Staunton's laughable attempts to claim that last night visitors to Lansdowne Road were difficult to break down, it was soon apparent that they were about as loose as a particularly bawdy hen party.

Within six minutes, Ireland had the lead. In the end, they racked up five with Robbie Keane's first hat-trick in a green shirt the highlight of a ridiculously one sided encounter.

Yet this was a better night for Staunton than he could possibly have imagined when news filtered through that Cyprus had taken a point from their clash with Germany in Nicosia.

No doubt, he will feel vindicated in his assertions that the Cypriots aren't such a bad team after all.

That was the real story of Group D last night because, in truth, there is very little that the Louthman could have learned from exercises like this. With almost a full complement at his disposal, a selection close to his strongest was dispatched.

Tellingly, perhaps, Steve Finnan started at left back which would suggest that he will be deployed there in the future in this campaign.

John O'Shea's status at right back, however, may not be so secure when Stephen Carr is available.

Neither was tested as the Irish back four, with Paul McShane and Richard Dunne at centre halves, had just one San Marino striker to deal with in the form of Selva. As the game progressed, even their attentions turned towards the other end.

Having shipped 20 goals in their two previous qualifying campaigns to date, San Marino were averaging out a concession every nine minutes. They didn't even last that long on this occasion.

When Kevin Doyle was felled outside the visitors penalty area in the sixth minute, Andy Reid stepped up with confidence to fire an effort past the wall which was deflected into the net by the head of unwitting San Marino defender Davide Simoncini.

Endure

The centre half was earning only his third cap but, according to his manager, is one for the future. One senses he will endure many more nights like this.

Slack marking led to Ireland's second goal just past the midway point of the half with Doyle breaking his international duck at the fifth attempt.

The Wexford man was perfectly placed to latch onto Kevin Kilbane's cross and loop a header over the hapless Federico Valentini as the visiting defence posed like waxwork models.

With Doyle getting on the scoresheet, Keane soon got in on the act.

Kilbane was again the provider as the Irish captain found ample time to slot home his 27th international goal just past the half hour mark.

As San Marino were defending so deep it would be harsh to read too much into the analysis of the striking partnership on last night's evidence, but it's fair to say that the symmetry between Doyle and Keane is still a work in progress with their wires occasionally getting crossed.

At the other end, the light blue shirts had little to offer. When the minnows got on the ball and attempted to push forward they looked as hopeless as a criminal in a golf buggy trying to escape a police car.

In short, they never looked like they had a chance of getting away.

Ireland had the freedom to use plenty of imagination in their play, with plenty of caution thrown to the wind although a few soft concessions of the ball by Reid would suggest that in a more competitive international he may not be ideal for the centre of a four-man midfield.

Then again, this was so embarrassingly easy that you could almost forgive the occasional bouts of sloppiness.

At half-time, new European super bantamweight champion Bernard Dunne was introduced to the crowd. Numerous wags observed that maybe it was time for Giampaolo Mazza to throw in the towel on behalf of his charges.

But to be fair, they came out for the second half and battled bravely until the final whistle. Yet within ten minutes of the restart a fourth Irish goal was on the board when the roving McShane was taken down inside the area by Simone Bacciocchi.

Whipping

The Faroe Islands referee, obviously not feeling much sympathy for his own country's fellow whipping boys, pointed to the spot. Keane converted with aplomb although his celebration was less exuberant than normal. Maybe he was embarrassed.

On the sideline, Staunton remained alert and made a couple of changes with Lee Carsley and Doyle replaced by Jonathan Douglas and Aiden McGeady respectively.

That yielded little return and with ten minutes remaining Ipswich striker Alan Lee was thrown into the fray as the supporters amused themselves with a series of Mexican waves as an unusual farewell to the old Lansdowne Road.

Amid the good natured atmosphere, Keane slipped free inside the box to nod home from close range and secure the match ball.

That's his memento to a night that will not linger long in the memory. A solid three points secured but a complete non-event.

No questions were asked; none were answered.

Ireland ratings

STEVE STAUNTON 7 Communicated well with Lee Carsley when it seemed as if he was suffering with a knock in the first-half. And, as Ireland celebrated the second goal, emerged from Mick Byrne bear-hug to counsel Richard Dunne on his defensive line.

ROBBIE KEANE 8 As expected, against the archetypal minnow of international football, Keane extended his Irish scoring record. A beautiful flick early on demonstrated that the hat-trick man was only interested in deceiving the opposition and not the referee.

RICHARD DUNNE 6 The Manchester City centre-half conceded an inordinate amount of free-kicks in the first half, although the fussy referee, Mr Isaken from the Faeroe Islands, seemed to view any physical assault on the opposition as a personal affront.

LEE CARSLEY 6 His presence was an utter paradox in a contest devoid of the collison-based battles which are normally the Everton man's expertise. Spent a lot of the first-half engaging with the sideline but was struggling with a knock.

KEVIN KILBANE 6 Carelessly conceded possession, as is his wont, but rolled back the years by actually beating a defender with both pace and skill - until the favour was embarrassingly returned by his marker. Accurate delivery for Ireland's goals.

KEVIN DOYLE 7 Last night always looked likely to be a perfect opportunity for the young Reading man to open his international account and he took it adroitly with a neat, well-placed header. Cemented his role as Keane's number one strike partner.

ANDY REID 7 Apart from one skewed attempt, Reid's passing and awareness were notable features on an evening which suited him down to the ground. Would have backed himself to be on target with the free-kick and heavily involved in Ireland's subsequent goals.

STEVE FINNAN 6 Unemployed in defence, the Liverpool man found time to engage his opposite number with an impromptu display of quick feet at one stage. Produced a powerful, driving run to set up Kevin Doyle for a chance. Selection at left-back would suggest he may spend more time there.

SHAY GIVEN 6 Had to wait until the 43rd minute before he got his pristine gear even slightly soiled; which no doubt was just as he would have wished it given his tentative return to competitive action following his horrific stomach injury in September.

DAMIEN DUFF 7 Showed off a few of his trademark dinks and dummies, erasing thoughts of the current woe he's suffering on Toonside. It would have been nice to see him tethered to the wing against such easy meat so that we could salivate a tad more.

PAUL McSHANE 7 After his wonderfully unexpected explosion on to the international arena, this was a rather more refined atmosphere but his consummate professionalism was always evident. Surprising penalty award but, at least, reward for ambition.

JOHN O'SHEA 5 The Manchester United defender provided a dollop of comic relief as we began to weary of this hopelessly imbalanced skirmish. A haplessly skied shot encouraged shouts of 'Shoot!' whenever he subsequently had the ball.

SUBSTITUTES Jonathan Douglas: Arrived to faithfully deploy himself in the Carsley enforcer mode and, finding virtually nothing to impose himself upon, decided to augment the attack as Ireland sought goals. 6

Aiden McGeady: Might as well have been in from the very first minute as this was the perfect occasion for him to thrill the crowd and add much-needed width to a sometimes narrow attack frame. 6

Alan Lee: On for Kilbane (79), not long enough to be rated

The game at a glance

Man of the Match Robbie Keane (Ireland)

The night was all about goals and Spurs striker Robbie Keane kept up his side of the bargain by grabbing a hat-trick.

He tucked away a first half goal from Kevin Kilbane's cross, drove home a penalty when Paul McShane was fouled and then got his head to an Andy Reid cross for the fifth goal.

Turning Point When the balls popped out of the drum at last year's Euro 2008. The minnows of San Marino are way out of their depth, but Ireland reassured them that they are making some small progress after 13-0 and 7-0 thrashings were reduced to just 5-0.

Talking point Ireland's inability to break down such a poor side for long spells raises question marks about the team's creativity, especially after a 3-0 lead was established inside 31 minutes.

San Marino came on a damage limitation exercise and will be happy with their return. A last farewell to a dilapidated Lansdowne Road for Irish soccer also deserves mention.

Ref watch It was Lassin Isaksen's last time to officiate a match at this level and his first visit to Dublin. He did anything he could for the Faroe Islands within reason, at one stage in the first half awarding their No.9 Manuel Marani a free for falling over with Damien Duff, the nearest Irish player, scarcely in the same parish. He atoned somewhat with a rather dubiously awarded penalty on 56 minutes when Paul McShane was upended.

Manager watch Steve Staunton stood impassively by the side of the Irish dug out for much of the night with either arms folded or hands in pockets. When he did veer out of his area he was tightly marked by the fourth official.

Crowd watch After the crackling atmosphere of the Czech Republic this was almost funeral. They expected the goals to flow at a slightly quicker pace than they did. There was the routine arrival of a semi streaker to taunt and evade the stewards for longer than normal and what should be acceptable to entertain them and the ringing of a sleigh bell at the Lansdowne end interrupted the boredom. Kevin Kilbane's elephant touch drew derisory cheers, a Mexican wave late on invoked some interest but when you hear every yelp and roar from Shay Given it's a quiet night. Received the team's farewell lap to Lansdowne Road well at the end.

Match statistics Goals: Ireland 5 San Marino 0

Scorers: Simoncini (og) 6, Doyle 23, Keane 31, Keane (pen) 56, Keane 85.

Shots on target: Ireland 8, San Marino 2.

Shots off target: Ireland 15, San Marino 3.

Corners: Ireland 8, San Marino 0

Possession: Ireland 95%, San Marino 5%

Frees conceded: Ireland 16, San Marino 15.

Offsides: Ireland 1, San Marino 0.

Yellow Cards: Ireland: 1 (Paul McShane 83). San Marino 1 (Manuel Marani (77)

Red Cards: None

Attendance: 34,018

Teams Ireland: Given; O'Shea, Dunne, McShane, Finnan; Duff, Carsley, Kilbane, Reid, Doyle, Keane. Subs: Douglas for Carsley (50), McGeady for Doyle (63), Lee for Kilbane (79).

San Marino: F Valentini, C Valentini, Vannucci, Albani, Simoncini, Bacciocchi, Andreini, Bugli, Manuel Marani, Selva, Mariotti. Subs: Michele Marani for Mariotti (56), Crescentini for Vannucci (72), Bonini for Simoncini (81)

What next? Ireland and San Marino meet again on February 7 in the Italian city of Rimini

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