Finnan strike sets up win for Ireland

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The Republic of Ireland and Finland both enjoyed a useful run-out in front of an unusually quiet Dublin crowd last night before international football shut down for the winter. The Irish extended a season of good work with a hard-earned victory and the Finns, who held England to a goalless draw last month and are their next World Cup opponents, at Anfield in March, were able to take more encouragement than would normally be expected from a 3-0 defeat. Although all three goals were excellent ones, the last two, from Kevin Kilbane and Steve Staunton in the final six minutes, left the scoreline looking distinctly lop-sided.

The Republic of Ireland and Finland both enjoyed a useful run-out in front of an unusually quiet Dublin crowd last night before international football shut down for the winter. The Irish extended a season of good work with a hard-earned victory and the Finns, who held England to a goalless draw last month and are their next World Cup opponents, at Anfield in March, were able to take more encouragement than would normally be expected from a 3-0 defeat. Although all three goals were excellent ones, the last two, from Kevin Kilbane and Steve Staunton in the final six minutes, left the scoreline looking distinctly lop-sided.

The Republic's manager, Mick McCarthy, acknowledged that in admitting: "The Finns will feel hard done by, which doesn't concern me greatly. If it had been 1-0, that would have done me fine." McCarthy was not disturbed at having to send out a team missing three of its most consistent performers in Stephen Carr, Roy Keane and Niall Quinn, happily giving opportunities to understudies like Steve Finnan, Matt Holland, who took them, and Watford's Dominic Foley, who did not. Finland welcomed the chance for a further test against a team with many of England's characteristics, so there was plenty to be learnt on either side.

As in Helsinki last month, the Finns played with a sort of Scandinavian Christmas tree formation, deploying Barcelona's Jari Litmanen between two wide players and behind the striker, Mikael Forssell. Dangerous on the break and possessing a creator still close to world class in Litmanen - even though Barcelona cannot find a place for him - they showed qualities that will stand them in good stead on Merseyside, if Sami Hyypia's return on his home ground tightens up a defence prone to being caught square.

That was their problem for the first goal, after 14 minutes. Mark Kinsella, captaining his country for the first time, received a square pass from Ian Harte on the halfway line and chipped a perfect pass forward for Fulham's Finnan, who bisected the back-four and went round the goalkeeper, Bolton's Jussi Jaaskelainen to score.

Although the approach and finish were admirable, it was not the first time that either defence had been caught dozing in the rather sleepy atmosphere. Despite having Gary Breen and Richard Dunne as their centre-halves for the fourth successive match, Ireland were as guilty as the visitors and might have been punished on more than one occasion. The narrowest shave of all came shortly before half-time, when Joonas Kolkka hit a fierce drive from some 25 yards out against the crossbar.

The first crop of expected substitutions arrived at the start of the second half, with McCarthy changing Ireland's shape to restrict Litmanen, and keeping his promise that the Leeds full-backs, Harte and Gary Kelly, would not be overworked. Staunton and the Blackburn pair, Jason McAteer and Lee Carsley, came on, to the disappointment of Foley, who would have wanted more time to prove himself. With the Irish midfield not pushing up in support, Robbie Keane became too isolated and play was disjointed for much of the second half.

Finland, having surprisingly taken off Forssell, who had held the ball up particularly well, threatened more sporadically and Ireland finished with two unexpected flourishes. In the 84th minute, Kevin Kilbane met McAteer's cross with a fizzing header - like Finnan's, it was his first international goal - and, with the last kick of the night, Staunton curled in a free-kick touched to him by McAteer.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-4-2): Given (Newcastle); G Kelly (Leeds), Breen -(Coventry), Dunne (Manchester City), Harte (Leeds); Finnan (Fulham), Holland (Ipswich), Kinsella (Charlton), Kilbane (Sunderland); Foley (Watford), Keane (Internazionale). Substitutes: McAteer (Blackburn) for Kelly, h-t; Staunton (Crystal Palace) for Harte, h-t; Carsley (Blackburn) for Foley, h-t; Connolly (Excelsior Rotterdam) for Keane, 89.

FINLAND (4-2-3-1): Jaaskelainen (Bolton); Nylund (HJK Helsinki), Tihinen (Viking Stavanger), Pasanen (Ajax), Saarinen (HJK); Riihilahti (Valerenga), Tainio (Auxerre); Johansson (Charlton), Litmanen (Barcelona), Kolkka (PSV Eindhoven); Forssell (Chelsea). Substitutes: Kuqi (Jokerit) for Forssell, h-t; Gronlund (Trelleborg) for Johansson, h-t; Kuivasto (HJK) for Tainio, 66; Nurmela (Heerenveen) for Pasanen, 78; Kottila (Trelleborg) for Kolkka, 84.

Referee: P Durkin (England).

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