The Republic recovered the pride and drive that fuelled their brave World Cup challenge on a night when Hampden Park rocked to the compulsive beat of a compelling performance.
Brian Kerr was given the perfect start to an era that promises much after Ireland silenced the home fans in an attendance of 33,337 with two goals in a sparkling opening half. And they maintained a powerful grip on the contest to deny Scotland even one clear-cut scoring chances despite a much more energetic second half
effort from the home side.
This was Ireland in dominant mode, masterful and confident in their
control as they turned on the style. They left the indecision and ineptness of their European Championship far behind with a performance that reflected a group who were united and focused on the job in hand.
The benefit of having played in the World Cup finals was immediately evident in Ireland's approach. Their tempo was
perfect from kick-off, their use of the ball impeccable.
They were patient and constructive, routing most things through their midfield to ensure that Scotland could not settle, mixing it effectively by
hitting centre-forwards Morrison and Doherty early on occasions.
It was calm, it was assured, it was everything Scotland lacked. Add into the mix a pro-active attitude on behalf of a defensive four who refused to allow Scotland time or space, and it was easy to see why Ireland cruised into a two-goal lead within 16 minutes.
The first was culled straight from the training ground. Reid struck his free kick from the left of the penalty area at pace, and at just the right height, to meet the sprinting Kilbane and his flicked header flew wide of goalkeeper Sullivan and inside the upright.
Scotland were anything but convincing as they defended off a base of three centre-backs. Their peace of mind was not helped by the good form of Ireland's centre-forwards, as Morrison and Doherty were strong under the ball.
It was encouraging for Ireland's defenders to find their deliveries producing results. Morrison and Doherty succeeded in retaining possession
under pressure and linking with their midfielders, so there was a smooth, progressive flow to Ireland's football that contrasted starkly with Scotland's fragmented play.
The influence of the two strikers was considerable and Morrison was
especially tenacious. He added to Scotland's difficulties by regularly
taking up position opposite Caldwell, who was nominally their sweeper in their defensive line of three. The second goal illustrated the degree of difficulty Scotland had in countering Ireland. Kinsella delivered a ball deep into the penalty area that should have been routine for Scotland. But with the powerful Reid challenging strongly, goalkeeper Sullivan's punched clearance lacked conviction. The ball fell conveniently for Morrison and he struck a crisp and controlled volley with his left-foot that flew sweetly into the corner from 16 yards.
It was difficult not to enthuse about Ireland and about the contribution of the younger men Clinton Morrison, John O'Shea, Stephen Carr who was making a welcome return after 18 months, Gary Doherty and Stephen Reid.
Carr showed what a powerful force was denied Ireland during the World Cup with a compelling performance at right-back. His defensive work was without flaw for he was sharp and
decisive in his tackling and his incursions into forward positions were well timed and entirely positive.
O'Shea was imperious alongside Gary Breen and the security they
provided at the base of the Irish
defence was a substantial base from which Ireland could exercise their
O'Shea's awareness and ability to use the ball constructively, even in tight situations, pointed to a player of rare poise and ability. His position in the team was established by this
performance and Breen's impact was at odds with his standing at club level and his inability to hold down a place at West Ham United.
Scotland freshened the mix considerably in the second half when manager Berti Vogts rang the changes. His introduction of the diminutive Paul Devlin on the right wing was of most benefit to Scotland, for his skill and pace ensured Ian Harte was given a torrid time.
Devlin revived memories of former Scottish greats like Davie Cooper and Jimmy Johnstone with a captivating performance, but his steady stream of crosses fell on arid soil with Ireland in masterful control of the penalty area. Goalkeeper Dean Kiely was not asked to make a save of any substance in the 80 minutes of action he saw.
SCOTLAND (3-5-2): Sullivan (Gallacher 46); Anderson, Caldwell, Dailly; Alexander, Lambert (Gemmill 46), Ferguson (Thompson 65), McCann (Smith 65), Naysmith; Crawford (Cameron 65), Hutchison (Devlin 46).
IRELAND (4-4-2): Kiely (Colgan 80); Carr, Breen O'Brien 89), O'Shea (Dunne 80), Harte; Reid (Carsley 77), Holland, Kinsella (Healy 77),
Kilbane; Doherty (Connolly 73), Morrison.
Referee: E Braamhaar, (Holland).`