A farewell to Lansdowne Road, the decaying old stadium that is to be rebuilt over the next three years, and the Republic of Ireland really should have done it with a record win. But, having been three up just after half an hour, they eventually failed to surpass the six goals struck past Cyprus 25 years ago - although there was a hat-trick for Robbie Keane, taking his record international tally to 29.
The captain almost missed out on the match-ball after Shay Given hoofed it into the stand during a lap of honour. It was returned after pleas from the Irish back-room staff. "Hopefully there will be another 29," said the manager, Steve Staunton. If only Keane could score more frequently against better opposition.
The visit of San Marino, ranked 194th in the world, with only two full-time players and a history of thumping defeats, always guaranteed the Republic would sign off with a victory. It was also their first win in Group D, a group which took a surprising little twist last night with Germany drawing against the Cypriots who are continuing their vast improvement since 1981.
Cyprus suggested their 5-2 defeat of the Republic last month was no fluke by holding last summer's World Cup semi-finalists1-1 in Nicosia. Michael Ballack opened the scoring for Germany but Yiannakis Okkas equalised before half-time.
"A pleasing result," Staunton said of his side's night, but it also applied to the events elsewhere. "And that was even more pleasing. But I always knew there would be points lost and won along the way. There is a lot to play for so we won't be giving up the ghost yet."
The Republic certainly didn't look like they had a ghostly when losing in Cyprus in a result that almost did for Staunton's fledgling regime.
It also meant they went into this contest with maybe a touch more apprehension than they should have done. But neither did they play well. The mitigation - that it was perhaps difficult when facing such clearly limited opposition and on a pitch drenched by a day of continuous rain - was offset by the poverty of their passing.
None the less the Republic were ahead on six minutes with Andy Reid's curling free-kick deflecting off a defender's head and wrong-footing the goalkeeper, Federico Valentini. That followed a foul on Kevin Doyle and the Reading striker added the second, and his first for his country, when he reached Kevin Kilbane's cross with a looping header that clipped the crossbar on its way in. The third came from another Kilbane centre with the midfielder cutting the ball back for Keane to side-foot it in.
Inevitably opportunities were squandered and then a present arrived. The referee, Lassin Isaksen, in his final match before retiring - a moment deemed worthy of this game being televised live in his home country, the Faroe Islands - harshly awarded a penalty after Paul McShane ran into Simone Bacciocchi. Keane swept the ball home. He then completed the scoring by stooping to head in.
Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given (Newcastle United); O'Shea (Manchester United), Dunne (Manchester City), McShane (West Brom), Finnan (Liverpool); Duff (Newcastle), Carsley (Everton), Reid (Charlton Athletic), Kilbane (Wigan Athletic); Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Doyle (Reading). Substitutes: Douglas (Leeds United) for Carsley, 50); McGeady (Celtic) for Doyle, 63; Lee (Ipswich Town) for Kilbane, 79.
San Marino (5-4-1): F Valentini; C Valentini (both Sporting Novafeltria), Albani (Salucedio Calcio), Bacciocchi (Sporting Novafeltria), D Simoncini (Santa Giustina), Vannucci (Libertas); Andreini (Tre Fiori), Bugli (Secchiano Calcio), Manuel Marani (Dozzese), Mariotti (Lunano Calcio); Selva (Sassuolo Calcio). Substitutes: Michele Marani (Dozzese) for Mariotti, 59; Crescentini (Tre Fiori) for Vannucci, 72; Bonini (Dozzese) for Simoncini, 81.
Referee: L Isaksen (Faroe Islands).Reuse content