Ireland feel Keane loss as Italy stroll

Republic Of Ireland 1 Italy 2
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The Independent Football

The timing of it all was poor. Ireland had hoped to go into next month's vital World Cup meeting with France with the fillip of once more avoiding defeat against one of Fifa's top-ranked nations. This time, they were, for long periods, systematically dismantled.

Brian Kerr will draw comfort from his side's aggressive reaction after quickly falling two goals behind but that was erased by the comfort with which the Italians had circumvented their defences. This was not the usual, parsimonious Irish display and Kerr will happily welcome back the two Keanes - Roy and Robbie - who were absent yesterday, when it comes to meeting the French. He needs them.

Kerr also needs Damien Duff and the Chelsea winger remained the pick of his players. It was a joyful lesson in wing-play from Duff in what was, for the Irish, a changed formation. Kerr deployed a five-man midfield with Clinton Morrison as a lone striker and this unbalanced his team. The Italians went ahead as early as the 10th minute. Given saved brilliantly from Alberto Gilardino before Andrea Pirlo thrashed the ball in. It was soon 2-0 as Del Piero slipped a pass to Gilardino , who calmly chipped over Given.

But just as the Irish seemed buried there was an unlikely reprieve as Morrison's deep cross was half-cleared by Christian Zaccardo and Andy Reid immediately drove the ball low past Flavio Roma.

A flurry of half-time changes affected the Italians' rhythm and angled shots from Morrison, and substitute Stephen Elliott, a lively presence, billowed against Roma's side-netting. Then, with just three minutes left, the 21-year-old tried to side-foot Kevin Kilbane's free-kick across Roma and into the goal but the goalkeeper palmed it beyond the far post. It was, as ever, a spirited finale.

Republic Of Ireland (4-5-1): Given (Newcastle United); Finnan (Liverpool), Cunningham (Birmingham City), Dunne (Manchester City) , O'Shea (Manchester United); A Reid (Tottenham Hotspur), Holland (Charlton Athletic), Kilbane (Everton), S Reid (Blackburn Rovers), Duff (Chelsea); Morrison (Birmingham). Substitutes used: Harte (Levante) for Holland 38; O'Brien (Portsmouth) for Dunne h-t; Carr (Newcastle) for Finnan 57; Elliott (Sunderland) for A Reid 73; Miller (Man United) for O'Shea 78.

Italy (4-3-3): Roma (Monaco); Zaccardo (Palermo), Nesta (Milan), Cannavaro (Juventus), Zambrotta (Juventus); De Rossi (Roma), Gattuso, Pirlo; Gilardino, Vieri (all Milan), Del Piero (Juventus). Substitutes used: Toni (Fiorentina) for Nesta h-t; Grosso (Palermo) for De Rossi h-t; Iaquinta (Udinese) for Gilardino h-t; Diana (Sampdoria) for Del Pierro h-t; Barzagli (Palermo) for Cannavaro 62; Barone (Palermo) for Pirlo.

Referee: P Costa (Portugal).