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Football: O'Neill's Ireland reign starts with Latvia win


Martin O'Neill's career as Republic of Ireland manager got off to a winning start courtesy of a 3-0 friendly international win over Latvia at Dublin's Lansdowne Road on Friday.

New assistant manager Roy Keane may have hogged the limelight in the build up, but LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane put the focus back on the pitch with the first-half strike that gave him his 62nd international goal.

Aiden McGeady, who hit the net when given his debut at Celtic in 2004 by O'Neill, grabbed the second with a long range strike, and substitute Shane Long wrapped up the comfortable victory with a third goal late on.

Victory was as easy as the scoreline suggested, with Ireland creating a host of chances, while Marian Pahars's Latvia side struggled to mount any consistent attack on the home defence.

The Baltic team, ranked 117th in October's FIFA rankings, collected just eight points from 10 games in their World Cup qualifying campaign, and in truth, provided the warmest of welcomes for the new Ireland managerial team.

O'Neill's first team contained few shocks given he was picking from a squad chosen by interim boss Noel King, but he did cause a minor ripple by starting Wes Hoolahan behind skipper Robbie Keane, Marc Wilson in central defence and Stephen Ward at left back.

There had been concern that O'Neill's style of football would see little improvement on that offered by predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni, but the opening half hour gave the hosts plenty to cheer with wingers McGeady and James McClean enjoying more attacking roles.

The first chance came inside 70 seconds, when McClean was brought down just outside the box and though McGeady's free-kick was headed away, it fell to James McCarthy whose goalbound volley was blocked by John O'Shea.

Artis Lazdins volleyed over a half chance moments later for what was Latvia's only chance of the game, but the Irish kept pushing, with McClean enjoying an influential role that would see him earn the man-of-the-match award.

Robbie Keane saw his first effort on target well saved by Andris Vanins in the 12th minute after a training ground set-piece move, but it wouldn't be long before the 33-year-old was celebrating.

McClean's pressure saw Ireland steal possession, from which Keane won a corner, and the pair teamed up with McClean flicking on McGeady's kick before the forward pounced.

The LA Galaxy striker then forced a save from Vanins, this time after Whelan robbed possession, and he almost had a second but he was marginally ahead of O'Shea's diving header.

McClean, clearly in confident mood, pulled a shot wide just before the break after another winding run and there was no letting up after the restart with Seamus Coleman seeing his shot blocked by Hoolahan, and then McClean firing wildly over from the follow up.

McGeady was desperate to get in on the action, and after a long range shot stung the hands of Vanins, he hit the net with a cracking shot from distance after the Irish midfield forced Latvia into a mistake.

O'Neill made a raft of changes as the final whistle approached, with Long grabbing the final goal of the night after some great build-up play by Jon Walters and Coleman.