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Irish Eyes Smiling After Win

June 12, 2002|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

YOKOHAMA, Japan — The green-shirted legions faithfully followed their team across the width of Japan, from Niigata to Ibaraki to Yokohama, waiting and hoping to finally see an Ireland victory, waiting and hoping to finally see more than one Irish goal in a match.

Tuesday, at last, they found everything they were looking for--a 3-0 Irish victory over Saudi Arabia at Yokohama International Stadium and the accompanying berth in the World Cup's second round.

Ireland Coach Mick McCarthy said he hoped the supporters liked the show, because in his opinion, even those in the upper reaches of the stadium had a better seat than he did.

"Everybody has been telling us all week what a big game it is," McCarthy said. "You want to try sitting in the dugout when your backside is in the bacon slicer? It's all right for everybody else--they can enjoy it."

McCarthy looked like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown in the first half, knowing his team needed at least two goals to clinch automatic second-round qualification, and watching his players squander repeated chances for a second after Robbie Keane had given Ireland a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute.

"We were very nervous," McCarthy said. "It was a big game for us and I think frustration on the pitch, off the pitch, from the sidelines, affected us. We started trying to chase the game and get that other goal."

After trying to "settle people down" at halftime, McCarthy watched his team break through with the goal it needed--Gary Breen slipping between two Saudi defenders to knock in Kevin Kilbane's free kick in the 61st minute.

Damien Duff provided the clincher in the 87th minute.

It amounted to a windfall for the Irish, who had tied their first two games, against Cameroon and Germany, by 1-1 scores. With five points at 1-0-2, Ireland finished in second place in Group E behind Germany and will next face the winner of Group B, either Spain or South Africa.

Most likely, it will be Spain, a possibility that drew a mixed reaction from Ireland's players.

"They are terrific," midfielder Matt Holland said. "I hate to play against a great team."

Captain Steve Staunton begged to differ.

"Bring on the Spanish," he said. "We like playing the big boys. That is what the World Cup is all about."

Saudi Arabia (0-3) finished last in Group E. They were outscored, 12-0, which left Coach Nasser Al Johar with some explaining to do.

"I'm not satisfied with the way we played," Al Johar said. "Saudi was not good enough, but France got knocked out without scoring a goal."

Looking for similarities between his team and the 1998 world champions, Al Johar finally found one.

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