Republic of Ireland 2 Russia 0
Stato: Debut for Colin Healy and Richard Sadlier as Mick Mc Carthy makes 12 substitutions
Ireland effectively established an exciting World Cup rapport with their delighted fans in an attendance of 42,500 at Lansdowne Road last night with a comfortable win over Russia. The call of Japan was tangible despite the freezing conditions and it fired Ireland to a performance that was a seamless extension of their good form in the qualifying tournament despite the experimental nature of their team selection.
The prospect of contributing to the finals in June was all the inspiration Ireland needed to immediately hit a level of performance that was beyond Russia's capabilities on this night.
Ireland were so effective that by the final whistle all of the newcomers and the relatively inexperienced had justified their involvement but two in particular, Colin Healy and Steven Reid, had succeeded in presenting Mick McCarthy with compelling claims for further trials.
Both were undoubtedly helped by the fact that they started the game in a selection that was well-rounded and substantial in terms of experience.
They were helped by being involved while Ireland drove to establish their control but they took full advantage, with Healy emerging so prominently that he was nominated Man of the Match even though he played for only 45 minutes.
He sparkled as two goals within 20 minutes of kick-off set the mood and the tempo of the contest and were the product of Ireland's high-energy start.
They were quick, alert and driven in that time and the pace of their football surprised a Russian team clearly in more relaxed mode.
Mick McCarthy had promised a competitive match and so it proved. The mix of established internationals and emerging young talent provided a pleasing balance and Russia struggled to contain an ebullient strike force that was led by the irrepressible Damien Duff.
Ireland showed a refreshing sense of adventure that was illustrated by the impact of newcomers Reid and Healy as well as Steve Finnan and Duff.
They provided a cutting edge to Ireland's football that ensured Russia were compressed into their own half of the pitch and goalkeeper Nigmatullin was regularly in action.
The speed with which they helped deliver the opening goal was a significant influence, of course, for it helped establish a sense of superiority and a confidence that banished any possible nerves amongst the younger set. The result was the man in possession was always given options because everyone wanted a piece of the action.
The goal followed an enterprising move down Ireland's left that was only ended when Onopko fouled Kilbane. Harte's free was headed away from the penalty area but Reid struck the attempted clearance on the half-volley and the ball flew in with the help of a deflection from 25 yards.
Ireland's attack beat out a staccato rhythm as they penetrated a dishevelled Russian defence repeatedly. There was a captivating move between Kilbane, Duff, Harte and Kilbane again that ended with Healy taking the winger's pass on the edge of the box. He had the composure to search out a target before delivering the pass that Roy Keane struck viciously from 22 yards for Nigmatullin to touch over.
It was urgent, compelling and effective and was rewarded with a superb second goal in the 20th minute. Again the approach was impeccable with Roy Keane, Healy, Finnan and Reid setting up Finnan for the cross that was headed home with authority by Robbie Keane.
Titov was nominally a second striker for Russia but they used him in a withdrawn role.
But the numerical advantage in midfield was not apparent in the trend of the game. The assured manner in which the 21-year-old Celtic and Coventry midfielder dovetailed with the dominant Roy Keane was the most influential element of Ireland's first-half control.
Healy showed a maturity beyond his years and his technique was admirable.
He snapped out his passes with a sharpness and an accuracy that defied interception and he matched his initiative in attack with a defensive capacity that enabled him contribute generously to Ireland's security.
Healy is unquestionably a candidate now for a late promotion to the World Cup squad but, of course, much will depend on the level of exposure he receives at club level and the impact he makes in upcoming challenge games against Denmark and USA.
Reid was another who promoted his own claims for a special Japanese visa and the general mood of optimism and ambition was further fed by the delightful football of Duff. He is a special talent and with quick feet and a devastating swerve he regularly disco danced his way deep into enemy lines. It will come as no surprise if the modest young man from Blackburn emerges as a real star in the finals.
The second half was an ever-changing jig-saw puzzle that presented so many different images as a result of the substitutions that it defied description. It was impossible for either team to hit a rhythm or a pattern of play but Ireland defended stoutly in face of a growing threat from Russia.
They also attacked so effectively that they were only kept out only by the woodwork as Harte, from a free, and the busy Morrison both hit the upright in separate incidents.