By Joe Behan
The World Cup opened up with physical presence setting the tone in Senegal’s sensational 1-nil win over reigning world champions France. Senegal defended with graceful athleticism and looked like a smart outfit. The Africans, underdogs at 150-l, played out of their skins. The Blues left the field exhausted after losing to a brute and determined side.
Then Cameroon continued the African dominance for 45 minutes over Ireland. The Irish were standing off Cameroon quite a lot. Irish possession out of the back was easy for the pacy and powerful “Indomitable Lions” to pin down. At times the African champions, with blistering speed, left the Irish defense for dead. In the 39th minute, the muscular Patrick Mboma broke the dead lock that put a cork in it for many an Irish fan. But Ireland came out in the second half with a new lease of life to put an end to any thoughts of continued African celebrations.
Ireland was suddenly matching strides, winning tackles and putting some nice passes together. Mick McCarthy’s die-hards started to get their bodies on the ball. Within 8 minutes of the restart Matt Holland hit a superb 25-yard strike into the corner of the Cameroon net, 1-all.
The Ipswich midfielder said in his Irish Independent report, “I am not trying to slate Roy Keane but am reacting to the facts and the situation.”
Is the pen truly mightier than the sword? The babyfaced assassin was in the right place at the right time as Irish pressure exposed Cameroon’s weak clearances. The men in green threw all their might into tackles and began to come out with the ball. Irish grit played a big part in giving the Africans a taste of their own medicine.
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In the opener, Senegal sat in and hit the French with timely tackles. It looked like Senegal and Ireland had the same game plan. Senegal’s strategies worked for 90 minutes, Ireland had to change to plan B after 45.
In the second half, Ireland, like France, was one down. The Irish were able to put pressure on Cameroon, France were not as effective in doing so, preferring to depend on possession. The French possessed the ball well, but they were suspect on the Senegal counterattack.
The French lacked a stride or two when recovering defensively. They relied on possession and patience to score their equalizer. Ireland showed some nice one-touch passing in their possession game but included a high rate of running, defending and tackling to win the ball back.
The French attack struggled to hold the ball up top whereas Ireland’s Damien Duff was always in the picture. He made himself available and showed for the ball relentlessly. Once he turned and settled he maintained possession with the first and simplest decision. He was able to match the Cameroon defenders for pace and strength in and around the ball. McCarthy left Duff and his partner, Robbie Keane, in the game for 90 minutes because they were way too hungry to take out.
The two forwards left it all on the field but the Irish spark all came from McCarthy’s halftime changes on the right side. Gary Kelly moved from right full to right midfield, where he replaced the drained Jason McAteer. Steve Finnan filled in the right full position and Cameroon felt his presence immediately. The result gave the Irish team a chance to step back and get some space on the World Cup with the absence of star midfielder Roy Keane.