Sunday, June 02, 2002

Ireland 1, Cameroon 1

Associated Press Writer

Cameroon's Patrick Mboma, on the ground, kicks the first goal as Ireland's Matt Holland, center, tries in vain to prevent it.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        NIIGATA, Japan — Ireland overcame the loss of star Roy Keane, the ensuing turmoil and a sluggish start in its World Cup opener against Cameroon.

        Ireland played tentatively in the first half, but a more confident team emerged in the second half and the Irish rallied to tie Cameroon 1-1 Saturday.

        Seven minutes into the second half, Matt Holland scored from 25 yard past diving Cameroon goalie Boukar Alioum, tying the game and sending the Irish fans behind the goal into a frenzy.

        The Irish will gladly take a tie, given all they've been through — particularly against Cameroon, a team they consider the strongest in Group E.

        “I've had the hardest week possible, but coming into the game today was a blessed relief, and it's nice to be walking away without being beaten,” coach Mick McCarthy said.

        While the Irish players admitted they started out flat — partly due to nerves — many believed they outplayed the Cameroonians in the second half.

        Striker Robbie Keane almost scored on a curling 22-yard shot that hit the base of the right post.

        “If anything, I thought we were the stronger team in the second half, and that's something we can be pleased with,” Holland said. “We haven't been beaten; that gives us a good chance of advancing in the competition.”

        Ireland's comeback did more than counter Cameroon's physical play and efficient passing. The rally showed that the Irish have shrugged off at least some of the upheaval of the last 10 days sparked by the departure of Roy Keane.

        Roy Keane was sent home last week after an obscenity-laced tirade against McCarthy during a team meeting.

        The ordeal dragged on for days amid signs Keane might apologize and rejoin the team in Japan. But after the remaining 22 players issued a statement Tuesday saying they were better off without Keane, he made it known he would not be back.

        Despite the controversy, the players were eager to play soccer.

        “The nice thing was that we could get onto the football pitch and forget about what was happening and do our talking on the field,” Holland said.

        “Of course, Roy Keane is a fantastic footballer, and we're going to miss someone who's a world-class player. But he's not here and we'll deal with that.”

        The reigning Olympic and Africa Cup champion Cameroonians entered the match favored, and dominated the first half.

        “It's a big stage, the World Cup, and maybe nerves played a part in the first half,” Holland said.

        McCarthy said his players were giving up the ball too easily and Patrick Mboma scored in the 39th minute.

        “The team is a little bit down right now after giving up a 1-0 lead,” Cameroon's German coach Winfried Schaefer said. “I will have to let them recover a bit and help restore morale. We need to nip this in the bud.”


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