Football: Connolly's hat-trick keeps Republic in the hunt

Republic of Ireland 5 Liechtenstein 0
Republic of Ireland 5 Liechtenstein 0

Mick McCarthy's Republic of Ireland side comfortably collected the big victory they needed in Dublin last night to climb above Lithuania and Macedonia and claim second place in Group Eight of Europe's World Cup qualifying tournament.

David Connolly, the 19-year-old Watford striker, was the hero with a first-half hat-trick. He now has five goals in five games for his country, and is clearly a bright prospect. He is unlikely to be playing Second Division football next season.

The Irish remain eight points adrift of the runaway group leaders, Romania, however, and the best they can hope for is a home-and-away play-off against another runner-up. France 98 is still a long way off.

Jack Charlton, McCarthy's predecessor as the Republic of Ireland's manager, was in Dublin to watch his old team for the first time since his retirement. The sight of Liechtenstein's blue and red shirts must have made him wince, for it was the 0-0 draw against the part-timers two years ago that marked the beginning of the end of his managerial reign.

Martin Heeb, the goalkeeper whose heroics kept the Irish at bay that evening in Eschen, was wearing the No 1 shirt again for Liechtenstein. He was nearly beaten in the 18th minute when Gary Kelly headed a Mark Kennedy corner against a post and Roy Keane blazed the rebound over the bar.

Two minutes later, from another Kennedy cross, Kelly's low shot again found its way past Heeb, but Thomas Hanselmann came to the rescue with a clearance off the line.

Just when the crowd were beginning to show the first signs of impatience, the breakthrough arrived in the 28th minute. A move of many passes led to Keane dribbling his way through the heart of the Liechtenstein defence. As Heeb came out to challenge, Connolly seized possession and clipped the ball into the unguarded net.

Six minutes later the Watford striker had another goal to his name, Andy Townsend setting up Connolly to skip round his marker and calmly shoot home. The third goal was not long delayed. Jeff Kenna surged forward from right-back and fed Townsend, whose cross from the right was going into the net, but Connolly slid in to claim the last touch and a hat-trick within 12 minutes.

Tony Cascarino arrived as a 53rd-minute substitute for Ray Houghton, and it took the big boy from Nancy just six minutes to put his name on the scoresheet. Climbing high, he met Kenna's deep cross with a powerful header that flew past Heeb.

There was nearly another goal three minutes later, when Ian Harte's header was cleared off the line by Franz Schadler. The crowd were on their feet again, though, in the 77th minute to acclaim a fifth goal. It was a copy of the fourth, Cascarino heading a deep Kenna cross over an exposed Heeb. He nearly claimed his own hat-trick in the last minute, when he headed against a post but saw the ball bounce back into Heeb's arms. Despite Cascarino's impact, the 34-year-old represents the past of Irish football; the future belongs to Connolly and comrades.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-3-3): Given (Blackburn Rovers); Kenna (Blackburn Rovers), Cunningham (Wimbledon), Harte (Leeds Utd), Staunton (Aston Villa); Keane (Manchester Utd), Townsend (Aston Villa), Houghton (Crystal Palace); G O Kelly (Leeds Utd), Connolly (Watford), Kennedy (Liverpool). Substitutes: Cascarino (Nancy) for Houghton, 53; Fleming (Middlesbrough) for Kennedy, 63; Goodman (Wimbledon) for Connolly, 78.

LIECHTENSTEIN (1-2-5-2): Heeb (Vaduz); Stocklasa (USV); Hefti (Vaduz), Hanselmann (Balzers); D Telser (Balzers), C Frick (Balzers), Hasler (Vaduz), M Frick, (Basle), F Schadler (Triesenberg); Klaunzer (USV), D Frick (Balzers). Substitutes: Ospelt (USV) for M Frick, h-t; Verling (USV) for Telser, 63; Ackermann (Schaan) for Hanselmann, 80.

Referee: A Boutenko (Russia).