Republic of Ireland 1 Colombia 0
Robbie Keane handed Giovanni Trapattoni the first win of his Republic of Ireland reign as his 33rd international goal saw off Colombia.
The 27-year-old Ireland captain struck after just three minutes when his shot was deflected past goalkeeper Robinson Zapata by defender Elvis Gonzalez.
But if the contribution of a man winning his 81st senior cap proved decisive, is was no more so than that of another earning just his 10th.
Dean Kiely retired from international football five years ago after spending much of his time in the shadow of number one keeper Shay Given.
But with the Newcastle man injured, the 37-year-old took his chance with both hands, turning in a solid display in the 1-1 draw with Serbia at Croke Park on Saturday and staking his claim for the man-of-the-match award at Craven Cottage this evening.
The West Brom player made a string of fine saves to protect his side’s fragile lead as Colombia went for broke in front of a passionate crowd of 18,612.
The final whistle sent the Irish fans home to anticipate the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign in September with optimism with Trapattoni, while knowing there is still much work to be done, could content himself with a hard-fought victory against a talented Colombia side.
It came at the end of a fortnight which has seen him start the process of instilling his philosophy into his players while at the same time having to deal with elements of the soap opera which so often surrounds Ireland.
But when it comes down to it, all that matters to him is what happens on the pitch, and nothing breeds confidence like winning football matches.
Trapattoni was dealt a blow before kick-off when Damien Duff was forced to drop out after suffering severe sinusitis, although that gave a chance to Andy Keogh, whose late equaliser on Saturday confirmed his emergence as an international striker.
The 22-year-old Wolves man was to make a swift impact as Ireland got off to a great start, but the Italian will not have been too dismayed to see his players put through a stern test of their resolve as he attempts to steel them for the tests which lie ahead.
Ireland took the lead with only three minutes gone when Liam Miller’s tenacity allowed him to feed Keane on the edge of the box and his shot was deflected past keeper Zapata by Gonzalez.
With Keane and Kevin Doyle linking well in attack and Keogh and Aiden McGeady repeatedly swapping wings to keep the South Americans guessing, Trapattoni’s men put the Colombian defence under pressure on several occasions with the Tottenham man curling a 13th-minute shot just wide of the far post.
However, the 69-year-old had warned his players that, despite their lack of household names, the Colombians would not be without pace and swagger, and he was proved absolutely correct.
With Fredy Guarin and Macnelly Torres prompting from midfield and Falcoa Garcia, Edixon Perea and Juan Carlos Escobar keeping the Irish defence at full stretch, Kiely’s goal came under threat at regular intervals as Colombia launched a concerted fightback.
The keeper had to make a fine save to keep out Escobar’s bullet header on the half-hour, and then in injury-time, pulled off a superb double stop to deny first Garcia and then Edixon Perea.
In the meantime, Miller and Richard Dunne had cleared off the line from Garcia and Guarin, respectively, to preserve Kiely’s clean sheet.
In the circumstances, the Irish players headed for the dressing room at the break delighted with their lead, but knowing they would have to be just as resilient in the second half if they were to hang on to it.
The game resumed as the first half had started, at a furious pace with Colombia surging forward in numbers, but Ireland’s more patient approach allowing them to establish position in enemy territory, although without ever looking like testing the keeper.
However, Cristian Zapata had to get in a good 55th-minute block to deny McGeady as the winger cut inside from the left and let fly with his right foot.
The Celtic man was starting to threaten on a regular basis as he gave half-time substitute Gerarrdo Vallejo a torrid time, although too often his delivery left something to be desired.
But Kiely was in action again with 61 minutes gone to keep out Torres’s fizzing left-foot drive after he had been played in by Edixon Perea.
Colombia battered away as the clock ran down with substitute Giovanni Hernandez playing a glittering cameo role, but with the men in front of Kiely protecting him better than they had earlier in the game, Ireland rarely looked like surrendering their lead.