16.11.2004 at 19:30 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
1 - 0
Referee: Gylfi Orrason
Republic of Ireland 1 Croatia 0
Match Number 407
It has been a year to remember for Brian Kerr, but it is the next 12 months which are the most crucial for the Republic of Ireland manager.
Kerr can look back with pride on 2004, with his team heading into the new year in pole position in their World Cup qualification group, and with just one defeat overall from a hectic 13-match schedule.
Robbie Keane's 24th international goal in the 24th minute - and at the age of 24 to add to the numbers game - was deservedly enough to see off the friendly fire of Croatia in front of a 33,000 crowd at Lansdowne Road.
Naturally, Kerr chose to experiment, and it was not surprising the faces on show took their time to bed themselves in.
Kerr gave a debut to 20-year-old Sunderland striker Stephen Elliott, while there were rare starts for Paddy Kenny, defenders Richard Dunne and Gary Breen and midfielders Liam Miller and Graham Kavanagh.
There was also a change of skipper, with Kevin Kilbane handed the armband for the first time with regular captain Kenny Cunningham on the bench, and with Roy Keane rested.
With Ireland also kicking into a strong head wind, the onus was on Croatia to exploit such advantages, even if they were on foreign soil.
For Manchester City centre-back Dunne, feted by Kerr on his return to the line-up after a year on the outside looking in, he will quickly want to forget his fifth-minute error that almost led to the opener.
Kerr had also warned Dunne was prone to lapses in concentration that "could lead to trouble" and that was almost the case when a weak pass to John O'Shea was intercepted.
Dunne redeemed himself in part by blocking Darijo Srna's 18-yard shot, only for the rebound to fall to Ivan Klasnic for a longer-range drive which was narrowly wide of Kenny's right-hand post.
Croatia coach Zlatko Kranjcar had prepared for this match by sitting down with his team to watch videos of passing sides Brazil and Portugal in the hope they would reproduce such displays.
But what followed on occasions was more like watching Bradford than Brazil and they allowed Ireland the time to settle into the game, with the experienced Damien Duff the catalyst.
It was Duff's angled drive in the 20th minute which raised the spirits of the home fans, with his steely shot inches beyond the right-hand post.
Ireland were now alive and kicking, although how Keane then failed to score soon after will remain a mystery as an incisive through-ball from Elliott left him one on one with Tomislav Butina.
But rather than rounding the Bruges goalkeeper, Keane attempted a deft flick and it backfired as Butina produced a block with his right arm, the ball looping over the crossbar.
Although left red-faced, Keane was soon cartwheeling his way back into the affections of the Irish fans 60 seconds later, albeit with all the hard work coming from Duff.
Starting off on the right wing after a cleared corner had found its way back to the 25-year-old, Duff mesmerised the two defenders blocking his path.
With pace and cunning, he made his way to the dead-ball line before a sending low pass into the six-yard box for an almost-unaware Keane to sidefoot home.
Ireland , though, then fell asleep moments later, allowing Jurica Vranjes to power in a downward header to a Klasnic pull-back which flashed across the face of Kenny's goal, and fortunately just past the left-hand upright.
But it was the Irish who ended the half on top, only to almost have the wind taken out of their sails just after the break by Bosko Balaban, a man who could barely score for love nor money in his time with Aston Villa.
Miller headed off Balaban's firm drive off the line, with Kenny then producing a sprawling save to deny Robert Kovac immediately after as Croatia started the half with a renewed purpose.
It took the introduction of Cunningham for Breen for Ireland to regain control.
But the home side failed to add to their tally as Butina made fine saves to deny Keane and Duff, with the latter also striking the underside of the crossbar from inside the six-yard box.
Instead, Croatia almost grabbed a draw, only for Dunne to clear a Balaban drive off the goalline after it had gone through the legs of Shay Given just 90 seconds after he replaced Kenny in the 80th minute.
So a case of 'lucky 13' for Kerr, who by this time next year will know whether he will be preparing for the World Cup finals in Germany in 2006.
Rep of Ireland: Kenny (Given 80), Finnan, Dunne, Breen (Cunningham 52), O'Shea, Miller, Kavanagh, Kilbane (Quinn 80), Duff, Elliott (Barrett 84), Keane (McGeady 90).
Subs Not Used: Maybury, Doherty, Lee, Colgan.
Goals: Keane 24.
Croatia: Butina, Tomas (Tokic 66), Robert Kovac, Tudor (Balaban 45), Simunic (Neretljak 74), Vranjes (Ivan Leko 65), Nico Kovac, Srna, Kranjcar, Babic (Pranjic 59), Klasnic (Eduardo 59).
Subs Not Used: Vasilj.