- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

DUBLIN (AP) - Ireland and England fought to a scoreless draw Sunday in the first Dublin friendly between the two rivals since 1995, when rioting English fans committed the worst soccer-related violence in Irish history.

Ireland enjoyed the better first-half scoring opportunities, particularly from two pinpoint set-piece deliveries by Robbie Brady. Wayne Rooney narrowly cleared the first chance, while Irish forward Daryl Murphy wasted a better opportunity by heading Brady’s free kick wide and high from barely five yards (meters) out.

England struggled to feed the ball to Rooney, but raised its attacking tempo in the second half amid a wave of substitutions, including Arsenal’s Theo Walcott and a maiden cap for Leicester’s Jamie Vardy - who came on for Rooney after he struck a tame free kick straight to goalkeeper Kieren Westwood.

The visitors dominated possession in the final minutes against a tiring Ireland but couldn’t seriously test substitute Shay Given, who received his 129th cap in goal. Both sides were warming up for European Championship qualifiers next weekend: Ireland at home to Scotland, England away to Slovenia.

“It was a competitive game, both sides did try to win it, but we will be disappointed with our quality today. Ireland made more of their chances than we did of ours,” said England manager Roy Hodgson. He lauded the good behavior of both sides’ fans as “a remarkable positive. And it hasn’t always been that way.”

Indeed. While the game itself fizzled, the surrounding atmosphere sizzled with a sense of history and progress.

Police deployed higher-than-usual security around Aviva Stadium ahead of the early afternoon kickoff to ensure no repeat of the stadium violence that forced the last England soccer game on Irish soil to be abandoned. Back in 1995, only 55 police were on duty inside the stadium when 2,000 English fans in upper stands tore up the wooden seating of the old Lansdowne Road stadium and tossed planks dangerously on to Irish fans below. The game was abandoned after just 27 minutes with the Irish 1-0 ahead.

But much has improved in Anglo-Irish relations and in policing England’s fans, some 1,300 of whom were banned from traveling to Ireland. This time, Irish police allowed British colleagues to help screen English visitors at stadium entrances to weed out any known troublemakers. No arrests were reported.

Ireland’s fans demonstrated warm appreciation for the English foundations of their nation’s own soccer success, cheering loudly for guest of honor Jack Charlton - the former England international who coached Ireland from 1986 to 1995, including its first World Cup and European Championship appearances. The 80-year-old Charlton, donning a tweed cap, waved and wiped tears from his eyes during the ovation.

And once the game started, England’s fans demonstrated only good humor, chanting slogans mocking Ireland’s secret FIFA funding for its gleaming new stadium.

Sunday’s match came just two days after the Football Association of Ireland, under international pressure, published its 2010 contract with FIFA. Their deal gave Ireland’s FAI 5 million euros ($7.1 million) to help build Aviva Stadium that year - on condition that Ireland dropped threats to sue FIFA over its controversial failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and never publicly revealed receipt of the money.

“Oh Sepp Blatter, he paid for your ground!” the England supporters sang, and many Irish fans laughed in reply.

Both sides’ fans posed for pictures outside the 410 million euro, 52,000-seat stadium beside a cardboard cut-out depicting Blatter holding a 5-million euro check marked “For FAI Only.”

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