Football: Substitute Kavanagh drives Ireland to victory

Republic of Ireland 2 Sweden 0
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The Independent Online
THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND showed England the way in Dublin last night by beating something close to the team that Kevin Keegan's troops need to see off at Wembley in their next European Championship tie to have any realistic chance of qualifying for the finals.

After struggling to make clear-cut chances for a long period, they remained patient, began to vary their play a little more and scored twice in a minute late in the game.

Having taken off several players in order to play fair with club managers who had allowed their men to travel, the Ireland manager, Mick McCarthy, might have been resigned to holding on to a goalless draw. Instead, several of his substitutes grabbed the opportunity to remind him of their capabilities. Kevin Kilbane and Tony Cascarino set up the goals, which were scored by another replacement, Stoke's Graham Kavanagh, and then Mark Kennedy of Wimbledon, who was only playing because Damien Duff was rested.

Just as encouragingly, the defence held firm again and has now been breached only once in the six matches played since Argentina won on Lansdowne Road's unpredictable surface a year ago. There should have been more fixtures during that period, and continuing uncertainty over the state of the Balkan- dominated Euro 2000 group in which Ireland find themselves is the one cloud on their horizon at the moment. It would, however, become a ray of sunshine if, as is now expected, Yugoslavia - who beat them in Belgrade last November - are thrown out of the competition.

Sweden, with a date at Wembley on 5 June, had deliberately sought out opposition based on a nucleus of Premiership players and did not appear greatly disturbed by their defeat. Like the Irish, they were missing four or five first choice players and their assistant manager, Lars Lagerbak, said: "Of course you're always a bit disappointed when you lose but we always wanted to have this game. They're a well organised team who work very hard. They attacked very fast and both goals came from that situation so we have things we can learn from it."

McCarthy, having had to make do without Roy Keane and Denis Irwin was delighted to see the depth of his squad demonstrated. "It was billed as something not very worthwhile and it proved to be worthwhile after all," he said. "It was a good performance against a good team."

Until the goals, it was an evening in a low key, watched by a crowd of under 30,000. Their number might have been smaller, but for the attraction of seeing Henrik Larsson, whose 38 goals in Scotland this season encouraged hundreds of Dublin's Celtic followers to turn out.

He got little change, however, out of the excellent Kenny Cunningham, justifying McCarthy's faith in him as a centre-back rather than a full- back.

The absence of Kennet Andersson with a groin strain meant there was a lack of aerial strength in the Swedish attack, which was not a problem for the Irish. As usual they targeted the gangling Niall Quinn a little monotonously, a tactic that brought only one scoring chance in a dull first half.

Just before the interval Shay Given's long free-kick was nudged on by Quinn for David Connolly, whose sidefooted shot failed to beat Sweden's reserve goalkeeper Magnus Kihlstedt.

At half-time McCarthy withdrew Mark Kinsella, Jason McAteer and Gary Breen, who all have important club games on Saturday, only to find their replacements eager to take a starring role. The visitors, despite making two changes themselves, came out and played the more controlled football for a while, but a further Irish substitution, with Cascarino replacing Connolly in the 71st minute, proved the catalyst.

Only four minutes later, the 37-year-old Cascarino laid off Kilbane's cross for Kavanagh to drive fiercely past Kihlstedt. In the very next attack, the 37-year-old skipped down the left and cut back a cross for Kilbane that deflected off a defender into the path of Kennedy, whose finish was equally emphatic.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-4-2): Given (Newcastle); Carr (Tottenham), Cunningham (Wimbledon), Breen (Coventry), Staunton (Liverpool); McAteer (Blackburn), Kinsella (Charlton), McLoughlin (Portsmouth), Kennedy (Wimbledon); Quinn (Sunderland), Connolly (Wolves). Substitutes: Babb (Liverpool) for Breen, h-t; Kavanagh (Stoke) for Kinsella, h-t; Kilbane (West Brom) for McAteer, h-t; Cascarino (Nancy) for Connolly 71; Duff (Blackburn) for Kennedy, 78; Keane (Wolves) for Quinn (78).

SWEDEN (4-4-2): Kihlstedt (Brann Bergen); Kaamark (Leicester), P Andersson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Bjorklund (Valencia), Lucic (Bologna); Mild (IFK Gothenburg), Schwarz (Valencia), D Andersson (Bari), Blomqvist (Manchester Utd); Larsson (Celtic), Pettersson (Borussia Monchengladbach). Substitutes: Jakobsson (Helsingborg) for Bjorklund, h-t; Alexandersson (Sheff Wed) for Mild, h-t; Jonsson (Helsingborg) for Pettersson, 81.

Referee: P Garibian (France).