Republic of Ireland 0 Netherlands 4: Huntelaar leads Dutch romp to crush Irish spirit

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The Independent Online

Whatever the mitigation, whatever the absences, whatever the callowness and excuses of a new regime, this was embarrassing. It was also, with just 16 days before a European Championship campaign opens away to Germany, the worst possible preparation for the Republic of Ireland.

The Netherlands were everything they were not. They were quick, assured and wonderfully skilful with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, their new goalscoring machine, striking twice on his debut as Arsenal's Robin van Persie also ran riot.

The Irish were booed off after each half. This was their worst defeat ever at Lansdowne Road and their worst at home since losing by the same score to West Germany in 1966. For a while it looked like Ireland's record loss, 5-0 to Spain in 1931, was in jeopardy.

At times their manager, Steve Staunton, could do nothing but stare at his shoes. He said of his players: "It will be hard to pick them up." It couldn't have gone any worse. Eight were absent injured - including the captain Robbie Keane, Shay Given, Damien Duff and Richard Dunne - while two others, the stand-in captain Steven Reid, who hurt his ankle, and Stephen Carr, with a damaged hamstring, are doubts for the start of the Premiership .

"I was a bit surprised how easy it was," admitted the Dutch coach, Marco van Basten. "Normally we would have a difficult job versus Ireland. But I'm happy with 4-0."

Sure he is. Indeed, his team were quickly into gear with Van Persie feinting to shoot from a free-kick before passing to Arjen Robben, who struck the side-netting. Then Joris Mathijsen's goal-bound half-volley from Robben's corner was blocked by Steve Finnan. It acted as a precursor.

Huntelaar, whose emergence has ended Ruud van Nistelrooy's international career, wrongly had a tap-in ruled out for offside before the Ajax striker was left unmarked at the back-post to head in simply from another corner. As Ireland prepared to restart Kevin Kilbane pleaded, with open arms, for direction.

The Dutch scored again. Stephen Elliott's back-pass into his own area reached Huntelaar and he back-heeled to Robben. The Chelsea winger coolly side-footed past the goalkeeper Paddy Kenny. Staunton grew increasingly frustrated, but was powerless as Kilbane lost possession only for Rafael van Der Vaart to break and slide a pass across to Huntelaar, who cleverly chipped the ball over Kenny.

How Ireland needed something. The substitute Jonathan Douglas almost wriggled through before Aiden McGeady, making his first start, picked out Andy O'Brien. Edwin van der Sar clawed away his header as it headed towards the top corner.

Any hope of a rally was dashed with Van der Vaart again the provider, releasing Van Persie who struck a fierce shot just under the bar. The Dutch did not let up. Huntelaar tried to cross, instead of shooting, before Van Persie blasted over. He then struck a post.

Van Basten was asked why the Dutch had played so freely - as opposed to the World Cup. "Then we played against big teams," he said crushingly. Do Ireland have any hope against Germany? "If they get their big names back," he replied. A nation will pray.

Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Kenny (Sheffield Utd); Carr (Newcastle Utd), O'Brien (Portsmouth), O'Shea (Manchester Utd), Kilbane (Everton); Finnan (Liverpool), S Reid (Blackburn Rovers), Kavanagh (Wigan Athletic), McGeady (Celtic); Morrison (Crystal Palace); Elliott (Sunderland). Substitutes used: O'Brien (Newcastle) for Kavanagh, h-t; Doyle (Reading) for Carr, h-t; Miller (Manchester United) for Reid, h-t; Douglas (Blackburn) for Morrison, h-t; Kelly (Birmingham City) for Finnan, 64.

Netherlands (4-3-3): Van der Sar (Manchester Utd); Heitinga (Ajax), Ooijer (PSV Eindhoven), Mathijsen, De Cler (both AZ Alkmaar); Landzaat (Wigan), Van der Vaart (Hamburg), Schaars (AZ Alkmaar); Van Persie (Arsenal), Huntelaar (Ajax), Robben (Chelsea). Substitutes used: Kuyt (Feyenoord) for Robben, h-t; De Jong (Hamburg) for Landzaat, h-t; Emanuelson (Ajax) for De Cler, 60; Jaliens (AZ Alkmaar) for Ooijer, 77; Janssen (Vitesse) for Schaars, 83.

Referee: T Henning Overbo (Norway).

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