18.11.2003 at 00:00 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
3 - 0
Referee: Mr M Whitby (Wales)
Ireland 3 Canada 0
Canada for holidays, Ireland for the World Cup? Well, hardly ever.It would be nice to heap praise on Ireland for a comfortable win over Canada at Lansdowne Road but the overall impression was mixed promising but far from convincing.
Two goals from Robbie Keane and a mesmeric, exhilarating, solo goal from Damien Duff lifted Ireland above the mediocre Canadians. And as a first experimental dip into the potential lurking beneath the obvious surface of Ireland's international pool of talent, it was rewarding.
Until Keane spun in the space of his own footprints to touch home Ireland's third goal six minutes from time, however, it was a performance that was inconclusive. Had Canada taken their first-half chances it may even have been embarrassing.
To apply stringent standards of assessment on the exercise would be to lose sight of the nature of the contest. It was important to win, of course, but even more important in the longer term was to identify newcomers of potential and the skill to develop above the level of club football to enhance Ireland's ability at the highest level.
In that regard anything positive arising from the exercise was to be welcomed, nay even cherished, in the trough in which Ireland flounder after the disappointment of the European Championship. Hope springs eternal, of course, but more substantial encouragement is needed with the World Cup draw closing rapidly.
In that context it was good to record that the dull greyness of a routine Irish performance was illuminated by intermittent shafts of sunlight emanating from the individual contributions of Richard Dunne, especially, debutant Andy Reid and the resourceful Damien Duff.
Duff's goal, in the 23rd minute, was, immeasurably, the high point of the evening and testament to his undoubted genius.
It is stressing the obvious to suggest that the manner in which he ran from inside his own half through Canada's defence was as much about Canada's shortcomings as it was about Duff's skill and spirit of adventure. It was still an act of daring so audacious as to be beyond the imagination of all others except the diminutive winger.
It was significant that the pass that sped Duff on his swerving, elusive run through a defence that seemed hypnotised by his grace and style should have come from Andy Reid. For the chunky Nottingham Forest midfielder had a captivating debut, made special by his subtle footwork, polished technique and the breadth of his range of passes.
Reid made such an impact in the first-half as to suggest he was the one capable of bringing that touch of invention, that element of imagination, to Ireland's midfield play that has been lacking since the retirement of Liam Brady and, to a lesser extent, John Sheridan.
He faded in the second-half but suffered mostly because Ireland found it difficult to shake off old habits and tended to go long with their distribution from defence too often. But with a little more experience and a lot of encouragement, he might show the authority to command the ball more often from his defenders. He is possessed of all the necessary quality to turn a more regular supply into fruitful production.
Best of all, however, was the performance of Richard Dunne. This observer has long been of the opinion that Dunne has the potential to become Ireland's most dominant and effective defender.
He confirmed that opinion with a commanding performance that was, at once, a source of frustration to Canada and a huge comfort to Ireland.
Too many are influenced negatively in their judgement of his importance by an appearance that always suggests could do with a little trimming and, as a result, lose sight of his effectiveness. He was immense in every sense on this night.
Yet Ireland's overall performance was compromised by too many Irish performances that were self-indulgent. The opening minutes were portentous for Ireland attempted to play six inch passes within a space that would have been comfortably covered by a regular blanket in the opening salvo.
It was an approach that smacked of delusions of grandeur. And for much of the opening half Ireland were indolent, out-worked by a Canadian team of limited ability but not lacking a respectable work ethic. They created three worthwhile scoring opportunities before half-time while Ireland dithered after Duff's success in the 23rd minute.
The introduction of the substitutes in the second half helped produce a more stern Irish defensive performance and a more committed approach overall. Robbie Keane supplied the finish with a goal after 60 minutes and another six minutes from time.
IRELAND (4-4-2): Given (Colgan 81); Carr (Harte 46), Cunningham, Dunne, O'Shea (Thompson 86); S. Reid (Delap 61), Kavanagh (Holland 11), A. Reid (McPhail 72), Duff (Kilbane 86); Keane, Doherty (Morrison 46).
CANADA (4-4-2): Hirshfeld; Stalteri, De Vos (Rogers 82), McKenna, Jazic; Bent, Imhof, Bircham (Nash 79), Hastings (Fenwick 86); Peschisoldo (Bernier 75), Radzinski.
Referee: Mr. M. Whitby (Wales).