Holland prove askeen as Keane

World Cup 2002: Van Bronckhorst spares blushes for Van Gaal's side as Republic salvage memorable point
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The Independent Football

The Republic of Ireland's inability to hold on to what they have, prevented one of the most famous victories in the country's history last night, when a two-goal lead was squandered in their opening match of World Cup Group Two. Just as critical late goals in both Croatia and Macedonia cost them a place at Euro 2000, so Giovanni van Bronckhorst's equaliser seven minutes from the end took the shine off a superb Irish performance in a section in which, with Portugal also involved, every point will be a golden one.

The Republic of Ireland's inability to hold on to what they have, prevented one of the most famous victories in the country's history last night, when a two-goal lead was squandered in their opening match of World Cup Group Two. Just as critical late goals in both Croatia and Macedonia cost them a place at Euro 2000, so Giovanni van Bronckhorst's equaliser seven minutes from the end took the shine off a superb Irish performance in a section in which, with Portugal also involved, every point will be a golden one.

The Dutch, like Portugal, reached the semi-final of Euro 2000, going out in this same stadium to Italy's 10 men after the night of the penalty nightmare. Louis van Gaal, in his first match in charge of the national team returned to Amsterdam where he once turned Ajax into kings of Europe. He was deprived of five players from the Euro 2000 side but still appeared to be able to call on an enviable amount of talent.

Dennis Bergkamp and Aron Winter, having gone into international retirement as the country's highest goalscorer and most capped player respectively, were given special presentations on the pitch before the game; Edgar Davids, Boudewijn Zenden and Jaap Stam were among other absentees, but five of Van Gaal's former Barcelona orange men were in the side, Ronald de Boer lining up with two of his new Rangers club-mates, Bert Konterman and van Bronckhorst. The only new cap was Wilfred Bouma of PSV Eindhoven, playing wide on the left in a 4-4-1-1 formation that had Phillip Cocu just behind Patrick Kluivert in attack.

So the lack of cohesion in the Dutch performance was difficult to explain. Whether missing Stam's dominance at the back, Davids' drive, Bergkamp's guile or Overmars's pace, they looked ill at ease and could not complain about going behind. Robbie Keane's goal was deserved for their bold and confident start, in which one sweeping move he began ended with Niall Quinn's header being deflected against the outside of a post and another brought a free-kick that Ian Harte curled over the angle of bar and post.

In the 20th minute, Tottenham's Stephen Carr, well advanced down the right touchline, jabbed a pass towards the touchline that Jason McAteer crossed perfectly for Keaneto head in. The team's confidence was illustrated within a minute as Harte raced forward again and clipped a first-time shot from Kevin Kilbane's pass just clear of the far post.

Bert Konterman's error soon afterwards was typical of Holland's shoddy defensive work, and a stronger shot would have given Quinn the Irish scoring record, which he equalled on their summer tour of the United States.

All that the Dutch had managed was a drive beyond the far post by Michael Reiziger and a header from Frank de Boer from his brother's corner that Quinn, back in defence, nodded behind. With 35 minutes played, the visiting contingent, at least 6,000 strong, were cheering every Irish touch and jeering the home side's efforts even to keep the ball in play. Only in the last few minutes of the half did Holland threaten again; Dunne had to block Paul Bosvelt's shot and Kluivert could not quite reach Ronald de Boer's cross.

As the second half began in driving rain - the stadium's retractable roof had been left open - Van Gaal attempted to freshen up his team by bringing on Keane's Internazionale team-mate Clarence Seedorf for Reiziger. Ireland continued to dampen his country's ambitions, Quinn heading into the side-netting from a difficult angle after a break by Kevin Kilbane's, whose lively runs down the left ensured that they did not miss Mark Kennedy, the Manchester City miscreant sent home with Phil Babb after being arrested in Dublin on Tuesday morning.

Twenty minutes into the half Holland found themselves two down. McAteer worked his way in from the right, exchanged passes with Robbie Keane and drove in a fine left-footed shot.

Six minutes later, Jeffrey Talan, a substitute for the unhappy Konterman, beat Harte to Ronald de Boer's cross for a header past Alan Kelly from close in. Even then, Kilbane should have scored at the other end, bursting into the penalty area but pulling his shot wide. That miss was made all the more costly by Van Bronckhorst's dipping, swerving drive in the 83rd minute that gave Kelly no chance.

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