Paul Marcuccitti

Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.

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Roy who?

    About 11 or 12 years ago, I met a Nottingham Forest supporter holidaying in Australia. For me, a crazy Forest fan who was (at the time) yet to set foot in the UK, this was quite a stroke of good fortune. Not only did this chap politely offer to look after me if I ever visited Nottingham (he since has), he gave me a collection of Forest fanzines.

    Ahhh, fanzines. In the days before most of us had access to Internet and a million different websites for any club vaguely better known than Cobh Ramblers, fanzines provided the main access for fans to the views and feelings of fellow supporters of a club.

    In the 1990-1 season, a talented Irishman named Roy Keane made a big impact on Forest and, not surprisingly, he was hailed by the fanzines. Still a teenager, and bought for next to nothing, Keane became an instant hit with the Forest faithful - one fanzine writer mentioned that Keane could close down an opposition midfield even when he was "half fit". By the end of the season, Keane was preferred to Steve Hodge - a Forest favourite and an England international - for a place in the starting line up for the 1991 FA Cup Final.

    It wouldn't have been a day to remember for the man the commentators loved to refer to as "the 19 year old Irish lad". Forest lost and Keane let his fiery temperament get the better of him in an unsavoury exchange with Tottenham defender, Justin Edinburgh.

    Fanzines are often also interested in gossip and what their heroes do off the field as well as on it. I once read a story - which, I hasten to add, might not be true - that Keane went to a Nottingham nightclub for over 21s and was refused entry by the chap at the door. Keane then tried on a bit of the "do you know who I am?" routine. The chap politely replied, "Yes. You're Roy Keane. And you're 19 years old. You have to be at least 21 to get in here."

    Over a decade later, I am more inclined to believe the nightclub story than ever. More tragically, Keane does not appear to have matured much. His universally condemned walkout on the Irish team is further evidence of a player (and a person) filled with a most hideous kind of arrogance.

    The Irish fans, which gave their team such tremendous support in Niigata, probably feel the same way about their former hero. One of the first things I heard them sing as their team kicked off against Cameroon was "You'll Never Walk Alone". Sure, they might have sung that anyway but it might have been their way of telling the boys that they were right behind them in the wake of the Keane saga.

    Unfortunately the first half didn't quite follow the script for the Irish fans. I too was disappointed. I previewed the Irish team on this site and I feel like quite a goose now that the preview sits there talking in glowing terms of Roy Keane the player. The only thing that would mollify me now was a strong Irish performance - a we-can-do-it-without-you job.

    But, in the 39th minute, Cameroon went ahead with Patrick Mboma on the end of an excellent move. It was a deserved lead. The "indomitable lions" had easily been the better team in the first half. (And can I be the first to say what a relief it is that they have been forced to wear sleeves! Please, save those sleeveless shirts for the basketball court!)

    Maybe Mick McCarthy used Roy Keane in his motivational talk at half time rather than before the match. [By the way, does the fact that most observers are on McCarthy's side tell you something? Roy Keane is a real Irishman - not an Englishman or a Scot who qualified to play for the Republic because his great grandparents once owned an Irish wolfhound. McCarthy is from Yorkshire. He did qualify to play for Ireland through his family tree.] Anyway, whatever McCarthy said in the dressing room worked - as did his inspired substitution. Bringing Fulham's Steve Finnan on for the second half paid instant dividends and the men in green started to look much better. (The Cameroonians were in their away shirts in case you weren't watching.)

    In the 52nd minute, just after Geremi had nearly put Cameroon 2-0 ahead, Matt Holland, a player who might have been on the bench had Roy Keane been playing, brought Ireland level with a goal that will probably not receive as many plaudits as it deserves. From outside the box, the Ipswich man didn't attempt to blast the cover off the ball. His precise strike went into the bottom corner and it was hit no harder than it needed to be. Sure, we all like the goals that burst the net but give credit to a player that places it intelligently like that.

    From there, Ireland looked the more likely winners though Cameroon did occasionally threaten on the break. It was Ireland's second half just as it had been Cameroon's first. Perhaps a draw was a fair result.

    More pleasing still was Ireland's style of play. I wrote in my preview that Ireland "doesn't need to reproduce the dour football of its World Cup predecessors"; the Irish certainly didn't. The second half was arguably Ireland's best ever 45 minutes at the finals of a World Cup. Do you think the Cameroonians were rattled? Taking off their goal scorer midway through the second half, and replacing him with a player that drops in deeper, was surely a sign that they were panicking.

    Millwall's Steven Reid - another substitute - nearly won it for Ireland with a well hit free kick in the dying minutes but 1-1 was the final score.

    Apologies to Cameroon and to the fans of the indomitable lions. I know this brief match report has been mainly about Ireland and, no doubt, Peter Goldstein will continue to expertly cover the African teams.

    The day, however, really belonged to a group of players that pulled together in the aftermath of an event that provided the biggest story in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. Ireland may not have won; and the Irish may or may not advance to the Second Round. But watching them interact with and acknowledge their fans during the game, and celebrating their performance with those fans afterwards, was the story. It was the perfect two fingered salute to the brat that walked out on them.

    It's enough to make you want to mockingly ask, Roy who?



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