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Saturday, 1 June, 2002, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
Holland adds gloss
Matt Holland celebrates scoring his brilliant strike
Matt Holland wrote his name into Irish folklore
BBC Sport Online's Lyle Jackson

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Talk about a Matt finish. This was a truly magical moment for the Irish.

One worth the thousands of euro the fans had paid to get to the Far East.

But you cannot put a figure on Matt Holland's goal which saved the Republic's World Cup campaign from a losing start.

It was priceless. Absolutely priceless.

Mick McCarthy and everyone on the Ireland bench were off their feet punching the air.

Maybe life after Roy Keane would not be so bad after all?

But the moment belonged to the 28-year-old Holland, whom many will regard as an unlikely hero.

The Ipswich skipper, along with Charlton's Mark Kinsella, had been charged with filling the void left by the influential Manchester United midfielder.

He struck his fourth international goal, right-footed with pinpoint accuracy, and suddenly the Republic were back on level terms.

It could have been so different only seconds earlier if Geremi had found the net for Cameroon, having been left clear by an Ian Harte slip.

The Cameroon player's surround goalscorer Patrick Mboma after he gave his side the lead
Cameroon's Patrick Mboma is mobbed by delighted team-mates
Of course, it could have been a whole lot better if Robbie Keane's late cracker had gone inside the post instead of off it.

Ireland, who started cautiously, had grown in confidence as the first half progressed.

But to concede a goal just six minutes before half-time was a bad blow.

You could see McCarthy slump back in his dug-out seat and a few heads drop on the Irish team.

However, going by statistics, a draw in Niigata was the most likely outcome.

Ireland had won only once in World Cup finals. Cameroon had failed to register a victory in their last seven finals matches.

Another telling statistic was Patrick Mboma's startling strike rate in internationals.

When the Sunderland player stroked the ball in from seven yards, off he went to celebrate his 28th goal in 50 games for the African and Olympic champions.

Temporarily, the upbeat Irish fans were on a downer.

Many spent the half-time interval with head in hands wondering if Ireland's great World Cup adventure was to come unstuck on day one.

Remember, Ireland's strength has long been their ability to avoid defeat against classy, maybe more technically gifted, opposition.

Happily for the Irish players that ability was not to elude them in their hour of need.

And, on the final whistle, they were cheered loudly as they went over to the Irish fans to acknowledge the extraordinary support they had received.

You would have thought Ireland had won the game. They almost did in a rousing finale.

Matty Holland is now an Irish folk hero.


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GROUP E
  P GD PTS
GERMANY 3 +10 7
IRELAND 3 +3 5
CAMEROON 3 -1 4
SAUDI ARABIA 3 -12 0




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