Ireland's new manager, Mick McCarthy, may have problems to resolve, but he can rely on the fighting spirit of the Irish evident in a second- half display against the hugely talented Russians last night.
Defeat was no disgrace and a draw might have been salvaged though McCarthy's first match in succession to Jack Charlton was soured when Roy Keane of Manchester United was sent off seconds from the end for aiming a kick at Omar Tetradze.
With Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy as company for Russia, Group Six of Euro 96 promises to be a cultured assembly. Against the "new look" Republic team pledged to vary, if not abandon altogether, Jack Charlton's route one approach, Russia quickly revealed the fluidity that won eight and drew two games to head their qualifying group .
Even so, the Republic had early chances of imposing their style. Niall Quinn dragged one left-foot shot wide and Townsend headed straight into the arms of Stanislav Cherchesov. Each time Liverpool's Mark Kennedy was the provider in a free-ranging role between midfield and the strike force of Quinn and John Aldridge.
Shay Given, with 11 clean sheets in 14 games with Sunderland, made a nerveless debut, cleanly handling several dangerous crosses in a bout of tactical sparring, but he could be forgiven for failing to stop a 20- yard drive by Alexander Mostovoi that rewarded the Russians' patience and power after 33 minutes.
Andrei Kanchelskis switched the direction of play with a sudden backheel and Mostovoi sent the Russians on the way to avenging a defeat in Dublin two years ago during the Republic's build-up for the World Cup finals.
The red-haired Sergei Kiriakov was often evident in a serious test for the Republic's defensive trio of Paul McGrath, Alan Kernaghan and Steve Staunton. Mostovoi set up a chance for Igor Kolyvanov, which he fluffed in a sharp reminder of the Republic's often costly habit of failing to finish.
Shortly before the break with its welcome chance to rethink, Kiriakov was again the provider of a goal chance. Kanchelskis just failed to reach the ball a couple of yards out.
The Russians showed no signs of losing their flow or appetite for more goals, but the appearance of Tony Cascarino in place of John Aldridge after 70 minutes was the beginning of a staunch revival.
The Russians' second goal in 54 minutes was a product of Mostovoi's skill matched by Kolyvanov's wickedly curving shot from 20 yards.
Cascarino was fouled and Steve Staunton had the chance of putting his team back in the game, but Cherchesov saved his penalty and a minute later a goal by Quinn was disallowed for pushing. Quinn had earlier stabbed a chance against an upright following a corner by Staunton with the Russians not happy against the switch to a high-ball policy.
Cherchesov made a spectacular save from a cross by Kennedy, always a threat with his strong runs down the flank.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (3-5-2): Given (Blackburn); McGrath (Aston Villa), Kernaghan (Manchester City), Staunton (Aston Villa); McAteer (Liverpool), Keane (Manchester Utd), Townsend (Aston Villa), Kennedy (Liverpool), Phelan (Chelsea); Quinn (Manchester City), Aldridge (Tranmere). Substitutes: Kenna (Blackburn) for Townsend, h-t; Cascarino (Marseille) for Aldridge, 70; Coyne (Motherwell) for Quinn, 83.
RUSSIA (3-5-2): Cherchesov (Spartak Moscow); Radimov (CSKA Moscow), Nikiforov (Spartak Moscow), Tsymbalar (Spartak Moscow); Kovtun (Dynamo Moscow), Karpin (Real Sociedad), Onopko (Real Oviedo), Mostovoi (Strasbourg), Kanchelskis (Everton); Kolyvanov (Foggia), Kiriakov (Karlsruhe). Substitutes: Radchenko (Deportivo La Coruna) for Radimov, h-t; Tetradze (Spartak Vladikavkaz)for Tsymbalar, h-t; Shalimov (Lugano) for Kolyvanov, 68; Simutenkov (Reggiana) for Kiriakov, 65.
Referee: H Luyten (Netherlands).Reuse content