01.03.2006 at 19:30 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
3 - 0
Referee: D Ledentu (France)
Rep of Irealnd 3 Sweden 0
Stato: First game for Steve Staunton as Manager
Steve Staunton might well be excused for thinking that management at this level is a breeze. But you know he is far too wise, far too experienced, far too knowledgeable in the ways of football to allow the Republic of Ireland's handsome win over Sweden at Lansdowne Road lull him into any sense of false security.
Ireland did not just beat Sweden - a team that will contest the World Cup finals in Germany this Summer. They played them off the park.
True, Sweden missed some scoring chances ! True the loss of the formidable Zlatan Ibrahimovic as early as the 35th minute robbed them of a considerable attacking force ! True they are through to the finals and with little to prove to anybody !
It would be wise, when seeking to analyse this extraordinary result, to reflect upon what Ireland were playing for. First, they had a house full of enthusiastic and encouraging fans to drive them on - all 44,109 of them; truly a remarkable reflection upon the goodwill and pride that Irish fans take in their team.
Then they had the desire and, indeed, the need to impress a new management team. The reality was that every one of them was on trial, unlike the Swedes.
Even the 'old stagers' Robbie Keane and Damien Duff - Keane to prove he could take inspiration from the added responsibility of captaincy; Duff to show that Chelsea were wrong to leave him on the bench against Barcelona and to show Steve Staunton that the inspiration that lifted him to extraordinary heights in Japan and Korea in 2002 was still there to be tapped.
Then there was the desire of Steven Reid and John O'Shea to show they could fill in the important central midfield positions. Tall, competitive, constructive, they looked the part !
There also the preparedness of the youngsters to show they were fit for the challenge - Joey O'Brien, Stephen Elliott and the exciting Kevin Doyle in the van in this respect; Stephen Ireland, Liam Miller, Wayne Henderson all hustle and bustle, full of drive and eagerness to carry on in the same vein.
To his credit Staunton devised a playing formation that suited them admirably - Keane revelling in a role he invariably is drawn to, working diligently between midfield and the spearhead of the attack in Doyle.
While Keane beavered away, Duff opened a multitude of avenues through the Swedish defence in such haste as to make the National Roads Authority seem indolent. What a talent !
Duff, in this humour is a genius. In an age when mediocrity is the king, when a premium is placed in the Premiership on 'track and field' football - running and jumping - he is a precious commodity, a throw-back to a more relaxed, more creative age, when skill was paramount. When ball control, elusiveness, artistry, deception, were more valued, more prized.
He had defenders diving recklessly into hopeless challenges with the abandon of gulls diving into a shoal of sprat. Meanwhile he picked his delicate way through their lumbering, maladroit, ranks with the insouciance of a jet pilot in charge of a moped . The man is genius; unadulterated.
But football is not all about creativity and beautiful footwork, not all about artistic endeavour, flowing movements and rhythmical tempo. Competitive is what it is, competitive in the raw, vigorous, physical sense. And if you cannot compete then you may as well stay home and watch TV.
Competition, in an Irish context, was represented on this evening by the redoubtable Richard Dunne. Here was the beating heart of this Irish team; hard, committed and unyielding in a manner which provided Ireland with the granite-hard base upon which to build their goal-scoring performance.
Dunne was outstanding and his performance recalled his momentous contributions to historic achievements in the run-up to the World Cup finals of 2002 - away to Netherlands in Amsterdam, away to Portugal in Lisbon and at Lansdowne against Portugal. Performances for which he did not always get sufficient acknowledgement.
Yes, there was much to admire about Ireland and while everybody with Irish interests at heart must have rejoiced at the many positives that accrued from a bright and breezy performance, it must be placed in context; this was a start and a good one, but nothing more than that.
The goals fell regularly --- a typical drop of the shoulders and a shot from Duff that took a deflection on its way in after 36 minutes; a determined run over 30 yards by Harte to win a header from Isaksson's goal-kick to put the ball over the top of a criminally-lax Swedish back four for Robbie Keane to run on and score after 48 minutes and a top of the range strike from Liam Miller from 28 yards, after 71 minutes, to wrap things up.
Steve Staunton was typically restrained afterwards: "I said before that if we got half of what they put in at training over the last two days I'd be happy and I've got a little bit more - I'm absolutely delighted.
"I thought all of the debutants coped very well. It was a great performance by everyone. It is a squad thing and I will be chopping and changing before the Germany game so we'll see how people cope."
Staunton was never one for public hysterics and he absorbed attempts at complimenting him on his tactical plan by saying: "I told you we'll have a couple of formations that hopefully we can chop and change into whatever benefits us.
"We haven't got a big centre-forward so we have to play to our strengths .... And you've seen what they've done tonight."
Restrained and under-stated ... that's the Staunton way. This, remember, after a 3-0 whipping of a team that will play in the World Cup finals.
And on a night when Joey O'Brien, Kevin Doyle, Stephen Ireland and Wayne Henderson were introduced to International football. As new beginnings go, this was little short of sensational.
Sweden's manager, Lars Lagerback, summed up their disappointment and helped to put events into focus when he said: "I think you have to look at this type of game - when you play such a bad game - that you need to learn from that. If you're not concentrated this is what happens in international football."
Sweden, remember, played in the European Championship finals in Portugal in 2004 and they have qualified for the World Cup finals of 2006 in Germany. Ireland missed both championships ... the inference was clear - this was not the competitive Sweden that Lagerback will lead in Germany.
That may be but Ireland can do no more than beat whatever team is in front of them, so it was right that they should be positive ... Damien Duff: "It is always nice to get the winning mentality back really. Last year the results have not gone for us and tonight was a great performance and the most important thing was to send the fans away happy."
It was Duff's first goal for Ireland in two years and a first goal for Robbie Keane in four matches .... "I thought it was a tremendous performance" said the new skipper.
"The lads showed how well we worked as a team ... professionalism ... it's always nice to start with a good result and Damien got us off to a flier and from there we didn't look back."
Who needs to look back when it reflects failure to qualify for Germany and the World Cup finals ... 3-0 against Sweden was a good start. The sun will rise tomorrow, Ireland have given Staunton a great debut, the European Championship is only six months away, Netherlands are next ... time to look forward surely !!!
Republic of Ireland: Given, Newcastle United (Wayne Henderson, Brighton 49); Joey O'Brien, Bolton Wanderers (Kevin Kilbane, Everton 60), Andy O'Brien, Portsmouth, Richard Dunne, Manchester City, Ian Harte, Levante (Miller, Leeds United 60); Stephen Elliott, Sunderland (Stephen Ireland, Manchester City 49), Steven Reid, Blackburn Rovers, John O'Shea, Manchester United (Graham Kavanagh, Wigan Athletic 49), Damien Duff (Chelsea); Robbie Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Kevin Doyle, Reading (Clinton Morrison, Crystal Palace 69).
Sweden: Isaksson; Ostlund (Christoffer Andersson 74), Mellberg, Hansson, Edman; Elmander (Jonson 60), Linderoth ( Daniel Andersson 70), Kallstrom (Svensson 60), Wilhelmsson; Ibrahimovic (Rosenberg 35), Larsson (Allback 79)