Saturday, September 5, 2009
Cyprus 1 Ireland 2
Robbie Keane was Ireland's hero once again as he snatched victory in Cyprus to keep our World Cup dream very much alive.
Keano glanced home Damien Duff's 83rd-minute cross to claim his 40th senior international goal and three precious points, just as it looked as thought Ireland would have to settle for a fourth successive draw during the qualifying campaign.
Keane's winner came as news of victories for Group Eight leaders Italy and third-placed Bulgaria filtered through, and will send Ireland into their remaining games, against Italy and Montenegro at Croke Park next month - knowing second place is there for the taking, and top spot is not beyond possibility.
Ireland have played a game more than both the reigning world champions and the Bulgarians, but remain just a point adrift of the Italians and five ahead of Bulgaria.
Trapattoni's men were in front within five minutes when Kevin Doyle fired home a fifth-minute opener, but Marios Elia levelled after 30 minutes after Shay Given had pulled off a great save to deny Ioannis Okkas.
Ireland had chances to win the game before Keane did just that - goalkeeper Sofronis Avgousti denied Glenn Whelan with a superb 50th-minute stop - but they were made to work hard for a win which had the travelling fans inside the GSP Stadium dreaming of South Africa as they departed.
Ireland could hardly have got off to a better start as they forced Cyprus on to the back foot, just at they had done at Croke Park in October last year.
Full-back Avraam had little option but to concede a fifth-minute corner as Doyle closed on Duff's cross, and the visitors took full advantage.
John O'Shea met Stephen Hunt's cross beyond the far post and headed it back into the mix, and after Keith Andrews' shot had been blocked, Doyle turned and smashed the loose ball past Avgousti.
It was dangerman Aloneftis who had provided Okkas with his chance, and while he was kept quiet for much of the first half by O'Shea and Hunt, when he did get himself into the game down the left, Cyprus looked dangerous.
The equaliser arrived from that flank with half an hour gone when, after Dunne had dispossessed Okkas inside the penalty area and Sean St Ledger had blocked Avraam's shot, Elia made no mistake to lash the ball into the bottom far corner.
Ireland's response was swift and concerted, and they might have regained the lead had Andrews' 36th-minute effort from distance been a foot closer to Avgousti's right post or had Kevin Kilbane been able to keep his header a fraction lower seconds later.
Charalambides headed over at the other end five minutes before the break, but Trapattoni's men left the pitch at half-time knowing the game was very much there for the three points.
Just as they had done in the first half, Ireland started strongly in the second, and might have been back in front twice within the opening five minutes.
First Hunt headed a Duff cross into the side-netting from an acute angle, and then Whelan forced Avgousti into a top-class save with 50 minutes gone.
Keane's knock-down from Doyle's cross fell perfectly for the Stoke midfielder, who struck it first-time towards the top corner, only for the goalkeeper just to get his fingertips to it.
There was an anxious moment for the visitors, however, with 61 minutes gone when Okkas looked to have got marginally the better of Dunne as the pair raced into the box shoulder to shoulder and the striker ended up on the floor.
But Austrian referee Thomas Einwaller was not impressed, much to the annoyance of the locals.
But it was left to Keane to do what he has done so often in the past, beating Avgousti to Duff's 83rd-minute cross to glance a header home and send the 'Green Army' home in expectant mood for the remaining two home games in October.