Football: Welsh warm-up a damp squib

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The Independent Online
Wales 0 Republic of Ireland 0

Whatever the managers hoped to get from this friendly, a goalless draw on a swamp probably was not it. They are best qualified to ascertain what relevance it was to World Cup qualifiers over the next two months.

Torrential rain that reduced the pitch to a quagmire and a 7,000 crowd that would have embarrassed Ninian Park, never mind the National Stadium, brought the word "futile" to many minds.

Wales were probably the happier for learning Mark Crossley can stop shots at international level as well as he can for Nottingham Forest while Ireland had the promise of Jon Goodman to take back to Dublin. Whether either will be facing Belgium or Macedonia respectively is debatable, however.

On the minus side, Wales will be worried about the crowd. Not flush with money, they deserved better against a country which brought a fair number of supporters with them. The absence of Ryan Giggs did not help, nor a live television broadcast on a foul night.

Those who bothered saw a game that was better than the conditions deserved. Mark Hughes led the Welsh line with his amalgam of brain and brawn while the control of Ireland's Steve Staunton and Roy Keane sometimes looked like they were playing on a balmy summer's day.

Within two minutes Wales had the ball in the net, Gary Speed bundling in from a yard from Mark Pembridge's corner. It was disallowed for a push on Keith Branagan and they never got as close again.

It was the Irish, though, who made the more promising opportunities which gave Crossley a chance to excel. Born in Barnsley, the 27-year-old goalkeeper did his own ferreting among family trees to prove his Welsh connections and last night his newly adopted country were glad he did.

His start was not auspicious, letting a shot from Terry Phelan slip though his hands, but by the end he was performing marvels. His best save came in the 23rd minute when he dropped sharply to the floor to deny Goodman, but in the last five minutes he flew to the corners of his goal to deny headers from Tony Cascarino and David Kelly.

He had no hope, however, with the best chance of the match after 73 minutes when Staunton played a delightful pass to Cascarino. The Nancy striker hit the ball as he ran but merely had to shoot straight to score from seven yards. He missed, of course. It was that kind of night.

WALES (3-5-2): Crossley (Nottingham Forest); Ready (Queen's Park Rangers), Speed (Everton), Symons (Manchester City); Robinson (Charlton), Horne (Birmingham), V Jones (Wimbledon), Pembridge (Sheffield Wednesday), Legg (Birmingham); Hartson (Arsenal), M Hughes (Chelsea). Substitutes: Bowen (West Ham) for Robinson, 62; Taylor (Sheffield Utd) for Hartson, 69; C Hughes (Luton) for V Jones, 73; Savage (Crewe) for M Hughes, 88.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (5-3-2): Branagan (Bolton Wanderers); McAteer (Liverpool), Cunningham (Wimbledon), McGrath (Derby County), Harte (Leeds), Phelan (Everton); McLoughlin (Portsmouth), Keane (Manchester Utd), Staunton (Aston Villa); Goodman (Wimbledon), Cascarino (Nancy). Substitutes: G Kelly (Leeds) for McLoughlin, 52; D Kelly (Sunderland) for Keane, 74.

Referee: W Young (Scotland).