Dunne gives Ireland winning start in Nations Cup



reports from Dublin

Alistair Dunne, the 22-year-old Cork forward, might have given Ireland a dream start in the European Championship in Dublin yesterday in the opening minute of their game against Belarus, but for the first of a string of outstanding saves from the goalkeeper, Valentinas Vachkis.

However, Dunne was to set up Ireland's opening goal in the ninth minute, when he intercepted a weak clearance out of defence to push the ball through to Liam Canning, who put his team ahead.

The introduction of Vitali Kholopov for the visitors, who had arrived in Dublin less than 24 hours before the game, rocked the Irish back on their heels, and only a series of brave saves from the goalkeeper Ivan Bateman maintained their interval lead.

Twenty-four minutes into the second half, Dunne provided Ireland with the relief they needed as he dived forward to score their second goal, following a move which had started with a long aerial from Rob Taylor to Daniel Clarke to provide the pass.

Although Kholopov pulled a goal back for Belarus in the closing minutes, Ireland had made the start they wanted. Their Dutch coach, Cees Koppelaar, admitted after the game that he was relieved.

"There were a lot of nerves and we did not know what to expect of Belarus," he said. "They were much stronger than we thought they would be. We were told they would be very defensive, but they put a lot of pressure on our defence."

Earlier in the day there had been no dream start for Wales as they were beaten 3-1 by Belgium. After a goalless first half the Belgians took the lead, and although Paul Edwards equalised from a penalty corner shortly afterwards the Belgians took advantage of a hesitant Welsh defence to make it 2-1. With Wales committed to all-out attack, they failed to stop a further Belgian goal in the last minute.

The Scotland captain, Duncan Lowe, gave his side a surprise lead from a penalty corner against the cup favourites, the Netherlands. However, the Dutch side made a quick reply through their captain, Marc Delissen, before going on to win comfortably 4-1.

MEN'S EUROPEAN NATIONS CUP (Dublin) First day, Group A: Belgium 3 Wales 1; Spain 3 France 1; Netherlands 4 Scotland 1. Group B: Ireland 2 Belarus 1.