Duff shines in Republic's rainbow show

Republic of Ireland 3 - Cyprus 0
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The Independent Online

An optical illusion before kick-off saw the sprinklers mix with the September sun to create a rainbow effect across the pitch. On it there was no such trick of the light. The Republic of Ireland got their World Cup Group Four qualifying campaign off to a vivid start with a luminous victory over a potentially tricky Cypriot side.

An optical illusion before kick-off saw the sprinklers mix with the September sun to create a rainbow effect across the pitch. On it there was no such trick of the light. The Republic of Ireland got their World Cup Group Four qualifying campaign off to a vivid start with a luminous victory over a potentially tricky Cypriot side.

There was even extra colour with Robbie Keane scoring his 21st goal - in 53 appearances - to equal Niall Quinn's record as Ireland's top-scorer. Aged just 24, there are many more to come.

Quinn, incidentally, set that target against Cyprus three years ago. Indeed Ireland's win means they have now scored 17 times without reply in their last four meetings with Cyprus. But they are no one's whipping boys and will rattle other opponents in the group.

Although Keane garnered the records, it was the excellent Damien Duff, supported by Andy Reid, scorer of a stunning goal, who was Ireland's star. The Chelsea midfielder was hugely impressive and provided his side's attack with a rapier edge.

Milo Corcoran, the president of the Football Association of Ireland, had said that anything short of victory would be a "severe setback", although no one needed reminding.Manager Brian Kerr has rebuilt the reputation of Lansdowne Road as a fortress with 11 games undefeated. In the absence of the injured Roy Keane and Matt Holland he restored a central midfield of Graham Kavanagh and Kevin Kilbane who had combined so well in February's draw with Brazil.

Both featured early - Kilbane for a rash foul and Kavanagh for a clever ball inside the Cypriot defence to feed Duff's alert run. Ultimately, a free-kick was won and wasted by Keane, while his strike partner Clinton Morrison was even more profligate after misguiding a free header from Duff's cross. He did better with a stooping effort moments later, while a third header was deflected for a corner.

It is six years since Cyprus claimed a significant scalp, beating Spain, but they collected eight points from the qualifying campaign for Euro 2004 and, in Larnaca, pushed France. Ranked 104th in the world, 88 places below Ireland, their ambitions have often been unrealistic. But coach Momcili Vukotic has now fashioned an attractive side with several players, based in Greece, having Champions' League form.

Here, their policy was containment, peppered with some rash challenges, and they soon became entrenched. The goalkeeper Nikos Panayiotou smartly tipped over John O'Shea's shot and then from Kavanagh's free-kick a volley by Kilbane, on the stretch, cannoned off his legs.

Finally, Ireland broke through and Duff was again the provider. His right-foot cross picked out Morrison and this time he guided his header into the far corner. It was his first goal in 777 minutes of international football. Five minutes later, Reid scored his second in successive games - a sumptuous left-foot shot from 25 yards arcing into the net. An error by Shay Given, rushing from goal, almost allowed Cyprus back in, Michael Konstantinou's shot failing to make the angle.

Duff, soon after the break, turned and skipped past three challenges before having his heels clipped. Penalty. Keane, coolly, scored low to the goalkeeper's right. Time and again Ireland tore forward with breaks by Reid, Stephen Carr and Duff, again. Cyprus looked dispirited but Konstantinou's quick feet fashioned space and his shot was superbly parried by Given.

Panayiotou did equally well moments later to stop Duff's shot, after a surging run and another foray led to a low centre, fluffed by Morrison. The striker then almost got in the way of Duff's shot - which was turned away by Panayiotou.

Kerr even found time to substitute both full-backs, such was his side's comfort. Ireland's World Cup journey has begun. What remains at the end of that rainbow, remains to be seen.

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