Quinn endorses new Republic

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The Independent Online

Mick McCarthy's preferred choice of striking partners for the Republic of Ireland's World Cup campaign was publicly endorsed yesterday by the man it will affect most badly.

Barely 12 hours after McCarthy had declared, in the wake of a 2-0 victory over Russia, that Robbie Keane and Damien Duff are the pair he wants in Japan, Sunderland's Niall Quinn acknowledged that the Little and Large partnerships in which he has played the target man over the past 16 years have been overtaken by a more fluid modern system based on pace and movement.

On Wednesday Quinn was allowed a sentimental appearance in stoppage time as Ireland's 12th substitute of a mix-and-match night. Significantly, Keane and Duff had started the game, as they did in a critical 1-0 victory over the Netherlands last September.

They buzzed around to such good effect that Russia conceded two goals in the opening 20 minutes – Keane heading the second of them – and were beaten before they had started to play.

Later there were opportunities for the new generation of strikers in the shape of the First Division pair of Clinton Morrison of Crystal Palace and Richard Sadlier of Millwall.

"Robbie and Damien have added a whole new dimension,'' Quinn admitted. "We were a big man, small man team but we have options now and I'm more than happy with that.''

Assuming that his troublesome back holds up until June, the amiable Sunderland striker should still be heading for Japan with more than 90 caps behind him, which means that Morrison, Sadlier, and Wimbledon's David Connolly are chasing two places at most.

Of the other fringe candidates, two more First Division players pushed themselves right into contention.

Sadlier's clubmate Steven Reid, not 21 until next month, scored the first goal and did much good work down the right flank; Colin Healy, a year older and on loan from Celtic to Coventry, was voted man of the match after his 45-minute international debut, which must have brought an amused smile to his fellow Cork man Roy Keane, who was as outstanding as ever in nursing the youngster through alongside him.

"They've given me something to think about,'' McCarthy said. "I know now that they can play at this level.

"Richard Sadlier poses a threat too and he'll get another opportunity.''

If there was anyone whose prospects may have declined slightly it was the Newcastle centre-half Andy O'Brien, caught out as badly as the rest of the defence once the Russians stirred themselves in the 20 minutes before half-time. He is probably in direct competition with Manchester City's Richard Dunne, a favourite of McCarthy's.

The manner in which Ian Harte was exposed defensively was the most alarming aspect of an uneven performance, but he is unchallenged at left-back and worth a place for his set-pieces alone, which made him joint leading scorer in the World Cup qualifiers.

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