27.03.2002 at 00:00 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
3 - 0
Jason Mc Ateer
Brian Steen Nielsen,
Republic of Ireland 3 Denmark 0
The genius of Damien Duff illuminated an Irish performance of commendable vigour and determination at Lansdowne Road where World Cup fever reigned for this overwhelming victory over Denmark. The diminutive winger's huge talent was illustrated to breathtaking effect as he produced an individual bravura performance that was full of rich potential for the upcoming finals in Japan.
Duff's vast range of skill stamped him as an individual of exceptional ability; his technique, explosive pace and fertile imagination confirming what committed Irish supporters have always suspected, that this is a superstar in waiting.
Duff, precocious and elusive as a lizard, tormented the right flank of Denmark's defence to the point of distraction. His every touch was mesmerising, his influence captivating and his impact formidable.
The World Cup cannot come quickly enough for the capacity 42,000 fans who responded with their usual warmth and enthusiasm to a committed Irish performance. It was spoiled only by the ill-mannered barracking of Danish substitute Peter Madsen in the second half after he had been mistakenly identified over the PA system as Rangers' player Peter Lovenkrands.
This was the only sour note on a night when the fans danced to an Irish jig of compelling rhythm and seductive tone. Duff was the inspired orchestrator; he set the tempo and controlled the cadence and his capacity to discover hidden nuances in the score elevated this entire exercise to a level that was infinitely beyond all expectations.
How the fans loved it and they rose to acclaim his brilliance when he was called ashore six minutes from time. The smile on his face reflected his own satisfaction and his march to the touchline quickly assumed the nature of a curtain-call.
It was richly deserved.
It would, of course, be wrong to read too much into the events of a night that found Denmark in a strangely subdued mood. Their challenge was as ineffectual as a brolly in a gale and Ireland controlled the game throughout. Denmark provided stout resistance in the penalty area, otherwise their influence was negligible.
Yet there was much to admire in Ireland's play and, happily, this was particularly true of the work of Duff and his youthful striking partners, Robbie Keane and Clinton Morrison. The three provided Ireland with an extremely mobile and flexible force up front, their contrasting range of talents ensuring that Denmark were regularly stretched, the depth of their concentration regularly plumbed.
Morrison, as the new kid on the block, made a very encouraging contribution. His was the most onerous task for he had to mix it physically with Denmark's powerful central defenders, but he did so to such consistent effect that he was always a threat. His goal, on the stroke of full-time, was earned by the sweat of his brow. Robbie Keane occasionally spoiled his work by appearing too selfish but he was a superb foil for Duff, his quickfire sniping promising rich dividends. It was fitting that he also should figure on the scoresheet, his explosive strike from 35 yards, after 54 minutes, a thing of beauty.
The youngsters thrived in the emotional atmosphere and substitutes Colin Healy, Nicky Colgan, David Connolly and Steven Reid quickly caught the mood to strut their stuff before a discomfited Denmark.
The stage was set within 19 frantic minutes of the start by which time Duff's exuberance had already knocked Denmark's defence off-balance. An Irish goal was overdue, even at that early stage, and it came excitingly as McAteer fed Duff on the left wing and he disco-danced his way past two defenders, spinning through 360 degrees in the process, before crossing precisely for Ian Harte to head the opening goal. From there Duff ensure we were treated to one highlight after another.
THE body language told it all at Lansdowne Road as Mick McCarthy jumped for joy after each of Ireland's three goals demolished Denmark. And it was the same in his immediate post-mortem interview with the media. It was all smiles from big Mick as he lauded the performances of his entire team, especially man of the match Damien Duff.
"I am absolutely thrilled with this result. We won 3-0 and it might even have been more. Damien Duff was something else and it will have been a huge psychological boost for Robbie Keane to score his goal.
"It was a special bonus for us when Clinton Morrison scored in the last minute. He would have been disappointed had he not found the net as he did have chances earlier on. I felt Clinton played especially well.
"For a change, I told Ian Harte to get forward and that paid dividends when he scored our opening goal with a perfect header from a cross by Damien Duff. Skipper Steve Staunton and Kenny Cunningham did well at the back. Stan seems to have the elixir of life at the moment with his performances.
"Nicky Colgan did very well in goal when he came on as a substitute for Dean Kiely. It's great to have competition for the goalkeeping spot. Shay Given is still my number one choice. Dean Kiely did everything asked of him last night, hopefully Alan Kelly will be back from injury and Nicky Colgan showed he has the ability to play at this level.
"All in all a very good performance after last month's 2-0 victory over Russia. Now we can look forward to next month's game in Dublin against the USA before our final match at Lansdowne Road against Nigeria on May 16 before we depart for the World Cup Finals in Japan."