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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Fond farewell for Irish
Ireland leave their base in Izumo
Japanese crowd give Ireland an enthusiastic send-off
BBC Sport Online's Lyle Jackson

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The Republic of Ireland squad received a colourful send-off from the people of Izumo on Thursday night.

City dignitaries and hundreds of schoolchildren gathered in the huge Dome sports complex to wish the players well in the World Cup.

The friendly occasion ensured the Irish players had smiles on their faces as they headed to Niigata for their opening Group E match against Cameroon.

It made for a nice change. A blessed relief for players and officials visibly drained by the Roy Keane controversy.

There was a definite change in atmosphere in the Republic camp on Thursday.

Manager Mick McCarthy gave a media conference, followed by four players and the subject of Keano and his acrimonious departure in Saipan did not pass anyone's lips.

The civic send-off was a splendid spectacle and the hosts made sure it went without a hitch.

Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy
McCarthy - no mention of who know who

Those who gathered to wish Ireland well were even out through a rehearsal of chanting 'Ireland, Ireland' while waving Irish flags.

After the dancing girls, speeches and exchanging of gifts, the players headed back to their hotel for one final night before departing for Niigata.

They carry with them not just the good wishes of the charming people of Izumo.

Local people have been to the Izumo Grand Shrine, praying for Irish success in the World Cup.

The Republic's players and officials have been killed with kindness in Izumo.

But now is the time for the real business to begin and Ireland's first game in the post-Keano era.

"We are missing our best player and that is disappointing," said Ipswich Town's Matt Holland who is expected to partner Charlton's Mark Kinsella in midfield.

"There is pressure on Mark and myself to perform well.

"But you relish the chance to play against the best teams in the world."


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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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