Republic put on Swiss watch in familiar finale

Cyprus 0 Republic Of Ireland 1
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The Independent Online

It is as simple as that, but as things stand it looks an exceedingly tall order especially with suspensions and injuries and, after an hour against Cyprus, Damien Duff limping off with a jarred knee that will almost certainly rule him out of the denouement to Group Four. The Chelsea winger was, nevertheless, hopeful that rest may allow the injury to "settle down".

However, Kerr, who succeeded McCarthy in a blaze of cheeky optimism, appears shot. And so do many of his players while it remains to be seen whether the injured Roy Keane plays for his country again. For Kerr's captain, Kenny Cunningham, Wednesday's encounter, if lost, will be his last for the boys in green also. Retirement beckons for the 34-year-old defender, who far from being his country's worst player in an abject performance against a limited Cyprus, was also admirably honest in his assessment after the game.

Cunningham said: "We're not just going to sweep this under the carpet. There's no point in just dismissing this. We really have to make it happen. It's a real mental approach. We will have to defend better and pass the ball better. Switzerland are a superior side to Cyprus and they're not going to make it easy."

The stakes affected Ireland in the first-half, Cunningham added, a period in which they were "indebted" to their wonderful goalkeeper Shay Given, who produced three excellent saves and turned away a penalty from the otherwise impressive striker, Ioannis Okkas. "The penalty save was the best I've ever seen," Cunningham said.

His assessment continued to be incisive. "As a defence we played too deep at times and didn't press them high enough up the pitch," he said. "And when we did get possession of the ball we gave it away too cheaply." He added: "We started so positively, but after that we didn't make the positive pass forward and put more pressure on ourselves."

Indeed, Ireland's opening could not have been more assertive. They attacked and earned a goal after just six minutes when Robbie Keane cleverly used his body to shield the ball and steer it into the path of his strike partner Stephen Elliott, who struck it low and left-footed for his first international goal.

However, despite playing in front of the most astonishingly biased away support in the history of international football - 12,397 Irishmen, a sea of green was no exaggeration, against an apathetic band of Cypriots - they crumbled. The culpability was everywhere. From Richard Dunne, who tripped Okkas for the penalty, John O'Shea, who was suspect, and Stephen Carr in defence, through to the woeful pairing of Kevin Kilbane and Graham Kavanagh in midfield. Matt Holland's energetic display after half-time will probably mean that the latter is displaced against the Swiss. It is not much of an endorsement.

Keane almost added a second goal late on, but his chip was cleared off the line. That would have been a further injustice to the Cypriots, who would have swept Ireland aside if they had the conviction and confidence.

"In all areas of the pitch we need to improve," was Kerr's verdict and no one argued. Indeed, they wanted him to go further. He would not. "Cyprus played well," he added. "They took the game to us."

There was also a reference to the support: "Maybe they [Cyprus] were inspired by the fact that we had so many supporters here."

That was plain silly but that is what to expect from Kerr right now.

"Football is strange and the most important thing is we are still in the World Cup and still have a chance of getting to Germany next year," was Given's own verdict on the performance. He is correct, of course, and, amazingly, the permutations show that if Switzerland are beaten, and if France fail to defeat Cyprus in Paris, then Ireland would win the group after all. But they, as everyone knows, are very big ifs for this team right now.

Cyprus: (4-3-1-2) Panayiotou (Panachaiki); Ilia (Apoel), Lambrou (Ethnikos), Louka (Anorthosis), Garpozis (Xanthi); Makridis, Michail (both Apoel), Aloneftis (Larissa); Charalampidis (PAOK); Okkas, Constantinou (both Olympiakos). Substitutes: Krassas (AEK Athens) for Michial (31), Yiasoumi (PAOK) for Okkas (69), Maragkos (Anorthosis) for Ilia (74)

Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given; Carr (both Newcastle United), Dunne (Manchester City), Cunningham (Birmingham City), O'Shea (Manchester United); Finnan (Liverpool), Kavanagh (Wigan Athletic), Kilbane (Everton), Duff (Chelsea); Elliott (Sunderland), Keane (Tottenham Hotspur). Substitutes: Holland (Charlton Athletic) for Kavanagh (h-t), Reid (Blackburn Rovers) for Duff (61), Connolly (Wigan Athletic) for Keane (89).

Bookings: Cyprus: Okkas, Lambrou. Ireland: Kavanagh.

Referee: V Kassai (Hungary).

Man of the match: Given.

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