Ireland’s Stuttgart alert as Dutch dazzle

THE Republic of Ireland suffered one of their worst home defeats for many a year, with this humiliating loss falling one goal short of the record on Irish soil — a 5-0 embarrassment to Spain in 1931.

With the opening Euro 2008 qualifying clash against Germany in Stuttgart just 17 days away, it is fair to say Ireland’s confidence has been shattered.

Manager Steve Staunton’s starting line-up was a makeshift one, with eight of his original squad withdrawing through injury — worrying with the Stuttgart clash very much in the mind.

Captain Robbie Keane, vice-captain Shay Given, Damien Duff, Richard Dunne and Ian Harte were among the notable absentees last night.

Paddy Kenny made his first appearance for 15 months, Aiden McGeady was handed his first start, John O’Shea was switched to centre-back and Steve Finnan to left-back.

Stand-in captain Steven Reid, with just 18 caps over five years, led out his country for the first time, while on the bench the seven remaining players had just 19 caps between them.

When you add in the fact Staunton was again without right-hand man Bobby Robson after another health scare, and the drama on Monday evening involving a man with a replica firearm, these have been testing times for the 37-year-old.

How Staunton must have wished for the luxury afforded to Dutch coach Marco van Basten — who could afford to axe Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mark van Bommel.

The omission of the latter clearly rankles with Holland supporters as one banner read ‘V Bommel hero, V Basten zero’.

Van Basten’s decisions have been of his own making, though, compared to those enforced upon Staunton, and the evidence was obvious for all to see.

Van Basten can claim a form of moral victory in giving van Nistelrooy the elbow, with Klaas Jan Huntelaar the preferred choice.

Holland fans had criticised van Basten for not taking Huntelaar to the World Cup, and it was clear to see why as he enjoyed a stunning debut — scoring two and creating two.

Newcastle boss Glenn Roeder showed up to run the rule over Dirk Kuyt, but he would do well to turn his attentions to Huntelaar on the evidence of such a scintillating performance.

After a sluggish start, the writing was on the wall for Ireland from the 20th minute onwards as Holland gathered momentum.

In the space of three minutes the imposing Huntelaar had one effort incorrectly ruled out for offside, another blocked by Andy O’Brien, before finally making the breakthrough in the 25th minute.

Television replays showed the Ajax striker was onside when a shot from Chelsea winger Arjen Robben was parried by Kenny before he seemingly poached the opener.

Further disappointment followed for Huntelaar soon after when O’Brien came to the rescue of a dishevelled-looking defence after Andre Ooijer had split the backline.

But Huntelaar was not to be denied. The 23-year-old was unmarked at the far post as he met a Robin van Persie corner to put the Dutch in front.

A change of formation followed from Staunton, switching from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1, but that mattered little as further misery ensued four minutes from the break.

Sunderland striker Stephen Elliott played a poor backpass into a crowded area, and Huntelaar accepted the gift.

After a neat flick into Robben, the Chelsea winger beat Kenny with a low drive inside the Sheffield United goalkeeper’s right-hand post for his eighth goal in 24 appearances.

There were four half-time substitutions, with pacy Newcastle teenager Alan O’Brien handed a debut, while O’Shea took up the captaincy from Reid.

Ireland threatened momentarily before Holland made it 3-0 in the 53rd minute, initially beating the offside trap before Rafael van der Vaart teed up Huntelaar for an exquisite chip over the advancing Kenny.

Ireland at least then tried to be positive, with Douglas and Andy O’Brien both denied by veteran van der Sar before the rout was completed in the 70th minute.

Running onto a perfectly-weighted through ball from Huntelaar, Robin van Persie drilled home number four in off the underside of the bar.

The Arsenal striker wasted a chance late on for 5-0, sparing Staunton a place in Ireland’s record books.

REP OF IRELAND: Kenny (Henderson), Carr (Doyle), Andrew O’Brien, O’Shea, Kilbane, Finnan (Kelly 64), Reid (Miller 46), Kavanagh (Alan O’Brien 46), McGeady, Morrison (Douglas 46), Elliott.

HOLLAND: Van der Sar, Heitinga, Ooijer (Jaliens 76), Mathijsen, De Cler (Emanuelson 60), Landzaat (Kuyt 46), Van der Vaart, Schaars (Janssen 83), Van Persie, Huntelaar, Robben (De Jong 46).

Ref: Thomas Henning (Norway).


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