Holland's strike makes all the toil worthwhile

 

A precious point won or two lost? This time it would have been laughable to have even posed the question.

Roy Keane, for one, knew that the draw had flattered the Irish at least a little but, like his manager, the Manchester United player has been around long enough to have been on the wrong end of that sort of luck too.

"Yeah, it was a good result but probably a poor performance," said the Corkman. "But when you look at the last match, that's football. I thought we deserved to win in Amsterdam and I thought we didn't deserve much here tonight but that's just the way it goes."

Having provided the final pass for the goal, Keane was, for once, basking in the reflected glory of one his team mates but he beamed with pleasure when asked about Matt Holland's second-half equaliser, as spectacular a strike as an Irishman has scored abroad since, well, since Jason McAteer's one a month or so ago.

"It was an outstanding strike," said the Manchester United man, "but to be perfectly honest I fancied him to score." To judge by Holland's face as it flew home, the same couldn't be said of the scorer but he did at least know he was going to have a crack, he insisted afterwards, and with a bit of a track record to boast of at club level he wasn't ruling anything out.

"I've scored a few like that for Ipswich," said Holland for whom this was his first international goal at any level. "Scoring wouldn't be a regular part of my game but I've got a few from outside the area. I knew I was going to have a crack as soon as it came to me, they were backing off and I was able to move a few yards and then I let fly.

"I'm pleased. I was pleased to get on really and have a job to do, scoring the goal just makes it a brilliant night."

The quality of the strike left even young Robbie Keane feeling a little envious of the Dubliner, no stranger to memorable goals himself, remarking that he would have been "thrilled" to have scored one like it.

"It's a great result for us," he added, "to come from a goal down and make a one all draw shows the strength in depth we have. I thought these were a better team than the Dutch and that makes it even better coming out of here with a point."

For Mark Kinsella that point was down to the side's relentless work-rate in defence every bit as much as to the goal itself. The Portuguese had plenty of the ball but had been persistently frustrated as they tried to work their way towards goal.

"The key was that they played in front of us but we never let them get behind us. They have very good players on the ball individually," observed the Charlton midfielder. "And they caused us problems but whenever they went to push through we always had a green shirt there beside the man with the ball."

As often as not that man was Luis Figo and it was no great surprise when the world's most expensive footballer begged to differ with his Irish counterparts. As he had been before the game, the local star was praising the Irish, pointing to the success of the Republic's under-age sides in recent years as a factor in the rebirth of the national team under Mick McCarthy.

The 27-year-old couldn't quite bring himself to say the Irish were worth their draw, though. In fact, he said, they were fortunate because "we had many chances to score, we played much better in the second-half than Ireland, who were only defending and trying to counter attack. But in one shot," he added, "they had the luck to draw the game".

The build-up to that one shot caused some anxiety on the Irish bench recalled Niall Quinn with the Sunderland striker describing how, when Holland first got the ball "we were saying `shoot', and he took a touch and we were all saying `shoot' and he took another touch - it was like slow motion."

All's well that ends well, though, and Holland's strike, when it came, was good enough to leave Quinn with something to look forward to at the end of the week when he returns to his own Stadium of Light.

"I can remember when the European Championships were over," he explained. "I came back for training the first day and all the English players were at the training ground saying `Oh, you lads have no chance in those first two games'. It's great to be able to go back now and say `we've done better than your lot anyway', grinned the 34-year-old.