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Football: Irwin's penalty sparks Ireland

Republic of Ireland 2 Paraguay 0
THE REPUBLIC of Ireland proved too hot to handle in Dublin last night for a Paraguay side shivering in temperatures some 30 degrees colder than those they had reluctantly left behind in Asuncion at the weekend. Denis Irwin's first-half penalty and a second goal from David Connolly, one of six substitutes brought on, was the least the Irish deserved and the least they could be satisfied with against undemanding opposition.

Paraguay, playing for the first time since losing to France on a golden goal in the World Cup second round, and under new management, did not use any of the foreign-based players who had dominated their squad last summer. In the absence of their colourful goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert, he of the thunderous free-kicks, the title of "El Loco" went to an Irishman - the streaker, who, to the astonishment of the Paraguayans, risked frostbite by cavorted along the touchline.

For Mick McCarthy's team, the game was important preparation ahead of next month's European Championship visit to Macedonia, in a group now featuring four joint leaders and realistic contenders following Yugoslavia's 3-0 victory in Malta yesterday. With that in mind, the most encouraging performances were those of an admirable midfield quartet of Jason McAteer, Mark Kinsella, Roy Keane and Damien Duff.

"We played some good football on a difficult pitch," McCarthy said. "They didn't have too many chances and we perhaps could have scored more but I'll take two [goals]. If we get the same scoreline in Macedonia, I'll be delighted."

Although McCarthy had feared having to put out a weakened squad, given the time of year it was a tribute to the commitment and camaraderie of his troops that Liverpool's Steve Staunton was the only withdrawal. The benefit in continuity and cohesion was evident from the start last night.

On a surface still bearing the scars of last Saturday's rugby international as well as the horrible sponsors logos, which could not be completely erased, Ireland enjoyed as much possession as expected without making a breakthrough until shortly before half-time. The two wide midfielders, McAteer and Duff, were well served by Kinsella and Roy Keane, and in turn enabled Niall Quinn to get on the end of some telling crosses.

In the 28th minute the Sunderland man deserved a 16th goal of the season, but his header from Duff's driven centre thudded against the crossbar. Duff had himself been unfortunate earlier on, seeing Denis Caniza clear his shot off the line after a subtle chip by Kinsella.

A goal arrived at last in the 38th minute, albeit from the penalty spot. Robbie Keane's first touch to McAteer's pass took him past the last defender Ignacio Rolon, who clearly tripped him. Irwin stepped up to score as calmly as he had done in the important European Championship victory over Croatia in September.

The young Wolves striker, quiet in the early stages, began to enjoy himself and would have doubled the lead in the 42nd minute but for a deflection.

Shay Given had only sporadic work to do in goal, once plunging to his right to hold a well struck effort by Jorge Valdez after Raul Roman drove a free-kick into the wall. He might have been beaten five minutes after the interval, but Roman's cleverly improvised back-heel was hit much too high by Juan Carlos Franco from only 10 yards out.

McCarthy decided to freshen things up by introducing a clutch of substitutes in quick succession and was rewarded by a second goal within five minutes. Irwin crossed from the right and Connolly bundled the ball untidily over the line.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-4-2): Given (Newcastle); Irwin (Man United), Cunningham (Wimbledon), Breen (Coventry), Harte (Leeds); McAteer (Blackburn), Kinsella (Charlton), Roy Keane (Manchester United), Duff (Blackburn); Quinn (Sunderland), Robbie Keane (Wolves). Substitutes: Connolly (Wolves) for Robbie Keane, 66; Carsley (Derby) for Kinsella, 66; Kelly (Sheffield United) for Given, 66; Cascarino (Nancy) for Quinn, 68; Babb (Liverpool) for Harte, 70; McLoughlin (Portsmouth) for McAteer, 80.

PARAGUAY (3-5-2): Tavarelli (Olimpia); Rolon (Lugueno), Caniza (Olimpia), Acosta (Lugueno); Valdez (Olimpia), Aguilera (Cerra Cora), Paredes (Lugueno), Roman (Portono), Ortiz (Colegiales); Caballero (Olimpia), Franco (Olimpia). Substitutes: Peralta (San Larenzo) for Roman 62; Brittez (Guaran) for Caballero, 70; Esquivel (Sol De America) for Franco, 79.

Referee: G Orrason (Iceland).