Republic of Ireland 3 Sweden 0: Keane leads from the front to open Staunton era in style

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The Independent Online

Johnny Giles, a legend of Irish football, had called for "moral courage" under the new management of Steve Staunton and that is exactly what his country got. A richly deserved and vibrant victory ensured the most luminous of starts for the regime. And also the bravest. The Republic of Ireland attacked throughout and committed players forward against a previously accomplished Sweden, who will go on to meet England in the World Cup but appeared more than a little shell shocked last night.

"We had a bad day at work," admitted their coach, Lars Lagerback, who said it was his side's worst performance since he was put in charge in 1998. "But respect to Ireland," he added.

That respect was well-earned, although even Staunton appeared surprised by what he saw. "It's better than what I expected," he admitted, describing the occasion as a "fairy tale" and then declaring, "I can't believe it". More emphatically, Staunton added that the players had "set the standard now".

Indeed they have. The bar was raised several notches from the performances under his predecessor, Brian Kerr. It should not be forgotten that Sweden conceded just four goals in reaching the World Cup finals and the vigour of the Irish made it all the more disappointing that they themselves will not be there.

Staunton handed debuts to four players and deployed the most fluid of formations, switching from two strikers to four to three and back again. Above it all Damien Duff stepped up with a brave, energetic performance that has not been seen from him for a couple of years.

Even so it was an injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic that changed the landscape. Up until his departure the Swedes were as likely to score but he then damaged a thigh muscle.

It was just as the Juventus striker departed that Ireland scored. The impressive Steven Reid found Duff, who cut in and shot right-footed across goal. Olof Mellberg tried to get his foot out of the way but instead he diverted the ball past Andreas Isaksson.

Ireland's new captain Robbie Keane blamed the turf as he fluffed Stephen Elliott's cut-back but he soon had his 26th international goal. Just two minutes into the second half Isaksson's clearance was headed back innocuously by Ian Harte but, somehow, the Swedish central defenders were caught out and Keane allowed one bounce before thrashing the ball into the net. As in the celebrations for Duff's goal, the players mobbed the dug-out.

Things become more raucous minutes later when the substitute Liam Miller added the third - and best - goal. He won possession just inside his own half, rode a challenge and ran on. As the defence again hesitated the midfielder struck a looping right-footed shot from 25 yards that sailed over Isaksson.

Larsson should have pulled one back for Sweden before the end but Ireland were worthy winners. The promised new era has, indeed, begun.

Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given (Newcastle); J O'Brien (Bolton), A O'Brien (Portsmouth), Dunne (Manchester City), Harte (Levante); Elliott (Sunderland), Reid (Blackburn), O'Shea (Manchester United), Duff (Chelsea); Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Doyle (Reading). Substitutes used: Henderson (Brighton) for Given, 48; Kavanagh (Wigan) for O'Shea, 48; Ireland (Manchester City) for Elliott, 48; Miller (Leeds United) for Harte, 61; Kilbane (Everton) for J O'Brien, 61; Morrison (Crystal Palace) for Doyle, 69.

Sweden (4-4-2): Isaksson (Stade Rennes); Ostlund (Southampton), Mellberg (Aston Villa), Hansson (Heerenveen), Edman (Stade Rennes); Linderoth (FC Copenhagen), Elmander (Brondby), Kallstrom (Stade Rennes), Wilhelmsson (Anderlecht); Ibrahimovic (Juventus), Larsson (Barcelona). Substitutes used: Rosenborg (Ajax) for Ibrahimovic, 36; Svensson (Elfsborg) for Kallstrom, 61; Jonson (Djurgarden) for Elmander, 61; D Andersson (Malmo) for Linderoth, 70; C Andersson (Lillestrom) for Ostlund, 75; Allback (Copenhagen) for Larsson, 79.

Referee: D Ledentu (France).

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