Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Ireland secure qualification
Ireland confirmed their place at next summer's European Championships with a 1-1 draw against Estonia in the second leg of their Euro 2012 play-off.
Already four up from the first leg, Ireland looked to be coasting when Stephen Ward fired home the opener after keeper Pavel Londak failed to hold Kevin Doyle's header.
However, Estonia battled back and captain Konstanin Vassiljev equalised with a long-range strike that Shay Given could only push into the net.
It failed to spoil the party atmosphere at Lansdowne Road as Ireland celebrated qualification for their first major tournament in ten years and their first European Championships since 1988.
There were wild scenes of celebration as most of the 51,151 fans, including new president Michael D Higgins, stayed behind to acknowledge the players on a lap of honour.
Trapattoni had made three changes from the side that had won in Tallinn, as John O'Shea, Kevin Doyle and Stephen Hunt replaced Stephen Kelly, Jonathan Walters and Aiden McGeady.
The Estonia team showed six changes from the first leg hammering, with injury and suspensions also playing a part in Tarmo Ruutli's selection.
The FAI aided the party atmosphere by providing over 50,000 green cards for fans to show their support. It was like the last day of school, as these became paper airplanes that cascaded down onto the pitch.
Down on that now littered pitch, Trapattoni's side produced a show, in the first half at least, with Damien Duff once again the main entertainer.
Two chances fell Robbie Keane's way inside the opening six minutes as Ireland began in a positive mood, matching that of the home fans.
The skipper controlled Doyle's flick-on but keeper Londak rushed out to block with his feet and Estonia bundled the ball away.
Estonia were then caught out as Hunt squared a free-kick to Duff on the edge of the box. Londak parried straight to Keane, who somehow failed to find the target from five yards.
For all the show, there was still plenty of graft, notably from Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews in central midfield.
Taavi Rahn tried to end the home's side's high spirits with a crunching challenge on Duff that yielded a yellow card.
It was not all one-way traffic, as Estonia often pushed on with four men in attack. Ward was on his toes to stop Vassiljev's through ball reaching Vladimir Voskoboinikov.
Estonia suffered a blow when they lost the impressive Dmitri Kruglov to injury after just 17 minutes. It was to get worse for the visitors on the half hour.
Ward has established himself as first choice left-back, but he showed he has not lost his striker's instincts by grabbing the opening goal.
Duff's corner was headed goalwards by Doyle and when Londak once again failed to gather, Ward was on hand to fire home from close-range.
At the other end it was a mainly quiet first half for Given, but he got down well to save from Voskoboinikov and was commanding in coming for crosses.
As half-time approached, Duff and Doyle combined again to set up Keane, but the captain's toe-poked attempt at goal drifted wide.
Vassiljev gave the away fans something to cheer about on 57 minutes with a long-range equaliser that Given should been have equal to.
The Estonia skipper is well-known for his shooting prowess, but Ireland stood off him and allowed the shot that skimmed off Given's fists into the net.
Substitute McGeady had an immediate impact as his clever reverse pass found Keane in space. A superb block by Ragnar Klavan kept the scores level.
Ireland were clearly stung into action by the goal and Londak was tested by Doyle's low strike and Richard Dunne's powerful header.
There were standing ovations for Keane and Duff when they were withdrawn, which was as much for their work in the career as on the night.
It was as exercised as the home fans got in the final quarter as the game wound down to an anti-climax.
Doyle almost capped another fine performance with a late headed winner, but it mattered little as the team were already well on their way to Poland and Ukraine.
Qualification will have also strengthened Trapattoni's hand in contract talks with the FAI, as attention turns to the draw for the group stages in Kiev on 2 December.
Ireland: 1 Given; 4 O'Shea, 2 St Ledger, 5 Dunne, 3 Ward; 7 Hunt (12 McGeady '59), 6 Whelan, 8 Andrews, 11 Duff (15 Fahey '79); 9 Doyle, 10 Keane (17 Cox '67).
Subs not used: 16 Westwood, 13 McCarthy, 14 O'Dea, 18 Walters.
Estonia: 12 Londak; 17 Jaager, 3 Rahn, 15 Klavan, 5 Kruglov (7 Puri '18); 20 Saag, 23 Teniste; 14 Vassiljev, 13 Vunk, 10 Lindpere (9 Kink '54), 8 Voskoboinikov (11 Purje '73).
Subs not used: 22 Kotenko, 19 Barengrub, 6 Dmitrijev, 2 Sisov.