YOKOHAMA — Ireland qualified in second place in Group E for a spot in the Round of 16 — where it will meet the winner of Group B — after a 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia in Yokohama on Tuesday night.

Goals from Robbie Keane, Gary Breen and Damien Duff sealed the victory for Ireland to give it five points from the group, leapfrogging Cameroon, which lost 2-0 to Germany.

Ireland coach Mick McCarthy exclaimed: “The lads were brilliant. We settled down in the second half. We were a bit nervous in the first.”

McCarthy had resisted the opportunity to start with big striker Niall Quinn, who had given the Germans a few headaches as a second-half substitute in their 1-1 draw June 5, instead keeping faith in the same starting lineup used in that game.

While Ireland entered the game in desperate need of a win to ensure qualification into the Round of 16, Saudi Arabia was playing for pride, having already been eliminated from the competition after losses to Germany and Cameroon.

The first half was a fairly dull affair with few chances generated from either team, although Saudi Arabia showed the more enterprise particularly after conceding the opening goal.

In the seventh minute, Ireland captain Steve Staunton sent over an inch-perfect cross to the right wing where Gary Kelly was waiting. Kelly in turn hooked the ball into the penalty area for Keane who, continuing his hot goalscoring form after netting a late equalizer against Germany, cracked home a beautiful first-time volley that Saudi ‘keeper Mohammed Al Deayea could only get a hand on. Keane duly performed his post-goalscoring ritual with a double somersault to the delight of the raucous Irish fans.

Saudi Arabia must have felt that it was about to be swept away with the typhoon swirling around the stadium, particularly as this was the same way in which it had started its humiliating 8-0 defeat to the Germans.

But, just as the typhoon disappeared so did any further threat to the Saudi goal, as the Saudi Arabians pushed forward hoping to catch the Irish napping. Much to the annoyance of McCarthy, it almost did so. With five minutes remaining in the half, Mohammed Al Jahani broke down the right flank, surging into the box unchallenged before hitting a right foot drive that required a fine save from Newcastle ‘keeper Shay Given.

With Germany leading Cameroon 1-0 at halftime one would have thought that McCarthy would have opted for a more defensive approach to protect his team’s position. Instead he brought on striker Quinn for defender Ian Harte, perhaps to add more balance to the side.

In the 62nd minute a free-kick from Staunton was met with a volley from the outside boot of Breen and Ireland was 2-0 up, scoring a second goal in a match for the first time in its World Cup history. The goal seemed to settle the team and virtually knocked the stuffing out of the hapless Saudis.

Ireland almost got a third a minute later when Quinn volleyed over after a cross from Kelly from the right.

The final blow to the Saudis came with three minutes to go and made for an embarrassing finish to a tournament it would prefer to forget. Hardworking Duff got a deserved goal after having found space down the left. He drove a fierce shot straight at Al Deayea who somehow managed to fumble the ball into his own net when he could have blocked it with literally any other part of his anatomy.

McCarthy may have known a thing about the Saudis having himself coached the team until February 1996. Since that time, however, Saudi Arabia has made no less than eight coaching changes. One wonders how long current coach Nasser Al Johar has left.

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