Football: Quinn shows Irish the way

Republic of Ireland 1 Macedonia 0

THE REPUBLIC of Ireland will begin their summer break level on points with Yugoslavia at the top of European Championship Group Eight after Sunderland's Niall Quinn finished a triumphant season by heading the only goal of last night's qualifier in Dublin. They should at least have doubled the margin of victory, but instead endured an anxious last few minutes after Macedonia finally roused themselves and hit Alan Kelly's crossbar in a rare attack.

Now the Irish must hope that Uefa does not spoil their holiday by deducting any points as a result of their government's refusal to issue Yugoslavia with visas for the scheduled fixture last Saturday. Such is the chaos in the section that it was the Republic's first competitive game since losing in Belgrade seven months ago, and they still do not know whether the next one will be the return against Yugoslavia, which could be fitted in during August, or the first part of a double header away to Croatia and Malta in September.

Macedonia, as Ireland's manager Mick McCarthy had predicted, were strong through the centre, with a defensive screen in front of two markers and a sweeper, making it difficult for Mark Kinsella and Lee Carsley, Ireland's central midfielders, to hack a way through the forest of red and yellow shirts. They profited instead from excellent service down the flanks, especially from Mark Kennedy out on the right, who tormented the visitors with a stream of controlled crosses.

Quinn's ability in the air also kept Macedonia under pressure, so the manner of the decisive goal came as no surprise. In the 65th minute, Kennedy whipped over a curling inswinger which the goalkeeper, Petar Milosevski, could only push out. Coventry's Gary Breen, who had an excellent game, headed it back and Quinn glanced in his 18th international goal.

Robbie Keane, still only 19 but now first choice as Quinn's partner, should have added a second almost immediately, shooting against a post before making way for Tony Cascarino, whose 83rd appearance (44 of them as a substitute) equalled Paul McGrath's national record. The 36-year- old ought also to have caught Frank Stapleton as Ireland's record goalscorer, spurning an opportunity in the last minute when played in by another substitute, Kevin Kilbane.

Failure to make chances like that count was almost punished by Toni Micevski, who got in between Breen and Kenny Cunningham, last night's captain in Roy Keane's absence, but saw his lob drop on to the bar. Barnsley's Georgi Hristov, a late substitute, then went down in the area, receiving a yellow card for diving rather than the penalty he had demanded.

It was lively entertainment for the crowd of 28,108 who had ensured that Lansdowne Road was simmering again after the surprisingly lukewarm fixture against Northern Ireland 11 days earlier. They turned up the heat either side of half-time as the best chances fell to Kinsella, whose shot was well saved, and Breen, with a header cleared off the line.

"I still fancy we can qualify," said McCarthy later in his understated way.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-4-2): Kelly (Sheffield United); Carr (Tottenham), Breen (Coventry), Cunningham (Wimbledon), Irwin (Manchester Utd); Kennedy (Wimbledon), Carsley (Blackburn), Kinsella (Charlton), Duff (Blackburn); Quinn (Sunderland), Keane (Wolves). Substitutes: Kilbane (West Bromwich) for Duff, 63; Cascarino (Nancy) for Keane, 68; Connolly (Wolves) for Quinn, 80.

MACEDONIA (3-5-2): Milosevski (Trabzonspor); Nikolovski (Sakaryaspor), Stavrevski (Croatia Zagreb), Stojanovski (Partizan Belgrade); Micevski (Borussia Berlin), Sainovski (NEC Nijmegen), Trenevski (Sileks), Trajcov (Vardar Skopje), Babunski (AEK Athens); Ciric (Nuremberg), Saciri (Vardar Skopje). Substitutes: Memedi (Sloga Jugomagnat) for Trajcov, h-t; Sedloski (Croatia Zagreb) for Sanivski, 71.

Referee: U Meier (Switzerland).

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