Irish suffer opening defeat
By Nic Evans. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
IRELAND were put to the sword by an impressive Russian side in their opening game in the Euro 2004 qualifying series, going two goals down and ending up suffering a 4-2 reverse.
The visitors were unable to cope with a home team that came out of the blocks flying and Shay Given was at his best to keep out Andrei Karyaka but at his worst when a poor clearance almost let in Sergei Semak (pictured).
Just as it appeared that Ireland were getting back into it - Ian Harte flicked Damien Duff's shot onto the bar, Karyaka put the Russians a goal up.
Mick McCarthy had been forced to take off Duff and replace him with Clinton Morrison, the Blackburn man the victim of a thigh injury, yet it was an individual error as Steve Finnan gifted possession to the home side and they did not waste it, with Karyaka cooly finishing for the opening goal in the 20th minute.
Again the Irish were at fault for conceding the second, Matt Holland losing out in midfield and the home team steamed forward and eventually the ball came to Vladimir Beschastnykh, who placed his shot beyond a despairing Given in the 25th minute.
Ireland's defence was at sixes and sevens and it was no surprise when McCarthy took off Jason McAteer and replaced him with Gary Doherty.
The Spurs star headed in an Harte corner midway through the second half but within a minute the Russians were two goals ahead again, as substitute Alexander Kerzhakov was left unmarked to make it 3-1.
Showing something of their fighting spirit, the Irish clawed another goal back, Morrison taking advantage of Mark Kinsella's good work to make it 3-2 with 16 minutes left.
Naturally the Irish pressed on in search of the equaliser and Kerzhakov found himself in the clear with three minutes remaining and although Given saved, the ball rebounded off Phil Babb and into the net to seal the Russians' victory.