Nigeria's Super Eagles, a combination of bright young fledglings and wily old birds, gave both the Republic of Ireland and England plenty to think about in ending their hosts' two-year-old unbeaten home record here in Dublin last night. England's opponents in their final World Cup group match on 12 June may have looked vulnerable at the back, but were inventive in midfield through Jay-Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu, and pacy in attack with their two precocious teenage strikers, Julius Aghahowa and Bartholomew Ogbeche.
A full-strength Irish side went two goals down soon after half-time to Aghahowa and the less celebrated Efe Sodje of Crewe, and although by no means playing badly, were able to retrieve only one of them, through the substitute Steven Reid. It made for a rather anti-climatic send-off for the Republic, who leave for Japan this morning, despite the festive atmosphere generated by another large crowd.
Their manager Mick McCarthy was undismayed by his side's second defeat in 21 games, which he felt might help damp down any unrealistic expectations for the matches that really matter, against Cameroon, Germany and Saudi Arabia. "We played very well and there were loads of positive things to come out of it," he said.
If the team that started the game, wearing their designated World Cup numbers, represents McCarthy's proposed first XI, there will be disappointment again on 1 June for Gary Breen of Coventry City and Charlton Athletic's Mark Kinsella, who missed out to Kenny Cunningham and Matt Holland respectively. The most reassuring thing was to see Roy Keane leading the side out and then quelling any doubts about his fitness before making way for Kinsella just after the hour.
By that time the Irish were two goals in arrears. In the 13th minute Aghahowa, 19, slipped a pass to Okocha and lost Cunningham in taking the return and knocking it past Shay Given. Those spectators not already applauding the goal were quick to show their appreciation of the five successive back-flips he then performed, reprising his celebration after scoring twice against Scotland at Aberdeen last month.
From then until half-time Nigeria's defence, with the former Internazionale and Derby County centre-half Taribo West back in situ, came under sustained pressure, in the face of which the goalkeeper Ike Shorumnu stood up exceptionally well.
Sodje had looked less secure at right-back, but two minutes after the interval he materialised unmarked in Ireland's six-yard box to head a second goal via his colourful bandana from Pius Ikedia's corner.
McCarthy freshened things up with a string of changes and two of his substitutes combined to bring the Republic back into contention. Millwall's Reid, summoned to World Cup duty the previous day when Mark Kennedy withdrew, lobbed the ball over Wilson Oruma, Clinton Morrison back-heeled and Reid shot high into the net for his second goal in five international appearances.
Pressure was renewed but David Connolly, another replacement, was twice thwarted in the closing minutes and so McCarthy's team, like Jack Charlton's in 1994, left for the World Cup with a rare home defeat behind them.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-4-2): Given (Newcastle); Finnan (Fulham), Cunningham (Wimbledon), Staunton (Aston Villa), Harte (Leeds); McAteer (Sunderland), Holland (Ipswich Town), Roy Keane (Manchester Utd), Kilbane (Sunderland); Robbie Keane (Leeds), Duff (Blackburn). Substitutes: Reid (Millwall) for McAteer, h-t; Kelly (Leeds) for Kilbane, 60; Connolly (Wimbledon) for Duff, 60; Morrison (Crystal Palace) for Robbie Keane, 60; Kinsella (Charlton) for Roy Keane, 63.
NIGERIA (4-4-2): Shorumnu (Lucerne); Sodje (Crewe), West (unattached), Okoronkwo (Shakhtar Donetsk), Opabunmi (Shooting Stars); Ikedia (Ajax), Kanu (Arsenal), Yobo (Marseilless), Okocha (Paris St-Germain); Aghahowa (Shakhtar Donestsk); Ogbeche (Paris St-Germain). Substitute: Oruma (Servette) for Okocha, 66.
Referee: A Costa (Portugal).Reuse content