Republic stunned by Suker's late strike

Republic of Ireland 2 Croatia 2
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The Independent Online

Just when Dublin was celebrating the success of two new striking heroes, an old Croatian ghost returned to haunt the Republic of Ireland in their World Cup warm-up for next month's crucial Group Two qualifier against the Netherlands.

The little Blackburn winger Damien Duff, taking a central role in the now familiar absence of Niall Quinn, blasted his first goal in 21 internationals to give them a 21st-minute lead.

Another Lansdowne Road victory seemed to be complete when Clinton Morrison, arriving for his senior debut from Crystal Palace in a rash of second-half replacements, tapped into an empty net 12 minutes from time.

A neat header by another substitute, Davor Vugrinec, from Igor Biscan's cross two minutes later seemed nothing more than a consolation for the check-shirted Croats, themselves facing a vital World Cup qualifier with Scotland next month. But in a match dominated by substitutes, another of them ­ the Manchester United reserve centre-back John O'Shea ­ was to play a definite if reluctant part. His handball from a corner gave Croatia's Davor Suker the opportunity to have the last say ­ again.

Suker, who dashed Ireland's Euro 2000 hopes with a stoppage-time winner the last time these two sides met in Zagreb in September 1999, drove in the penalty for his 44th goal in 63 internationals and two sides who finished the match unrecognisable from the ones who started it, ended level.

Yet, despite the late setbacks, the Republic coach Mick McCarthy still found encouragement in the performance of some of his less-established players. Duff's smartly-taken goal brightened an undistinguished first half in which Croatia barely moved out of first gear and the Irish, though playing with familiar urgency, were short of touch and finesse.

Not so Roy Keane, who took only a split-second to size up the situation when slack Croatian defending presented him with possession from a cross by Steven Reid, the debutant from Millwall. The Irish captain turned and saw Duff in the clear, feeding him a lovely ball which the makeshift striker lashed home.

With Croatia reluctant to press forward, the home side had ample opportunity to impose themselves. However, the crossing of Mark Kennedy and Reid lacked genuine quality and both wide midfielders were removed in a flurry of substitutions at the start of the second half.

McCarthy demonstrated a golden touch with his replacements when, after Jason McAteer had been denied by the goalkeeper Stripe Pletikosa, the ball ran nicely for Morrison, who joyously struck into the open goal. That, it appeared, was that, until the two Davors intervened for Croatia. It was still 13 matches without defeat for Ireland but, in truth, with the Dutch on the horizon, the result did not matter much.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given (Newcastle Utd), G Kelly (Leeds Utd), Dunne (Manchester City), Staunton (Aston Villa), Harte (Leeds Utd), Kennedy (Wolves), Roy Keane (Manchester Utd), Carsley (Coventry), Reid (Millwall), Duff (Blackburn), Robbie Keane (Leeds Utd). Substitutes: A Kelly (gk) (Blackburn) for Given, h-t; O'Brien (Newcastle Utd) for Dunne, h-t; McAteer (Blackburn) for Kennedy, h-t; Kilbane (Sunderland) for Roy Keane, h-t; Finnan (Fulham) for Reid, h-t; Morrison (Crystal Palace) for Robbie Keane, 52; Connolly (Wimbledon) for Duff, 52, McPhail (Leeds Utd) for Harte, 60, O'Shea (Manchester Utd) for G Kelly, 84.

CROATIA: Pletikosa (Hajduk Split), R Kovac (Bayern Munich), Jarni (Las Palmas), Soldo (VfB Sttugart), Tudor (Juventus), D Simic (Internazionale), Stanic (Chelsea), Rapaic (Fenerbahce), Balaban (Aston Villa), N Kovac (Bayern Munich), Boksic (Middlesbrough). Substitutes: Zivkovic (Bayer Leverkusen) for Rapaic, h-t; Biscan (Liverpool) for Stanic, h-t, Vugrinec (Lecce) for Balaban, h-t; Saric (Panathinaikos) for Jarni, 63; Suker (no club) for Soldo, 74; Tomas (Vicenza) for D Simic, 74; Prosinecki (Portsmouth) for Boksic, 74, Bjelica (Kaiserslautern) for N Kovac, 82.

Referee: A Schluchter (Switzerland).

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