by Ryan Bailey at the Aviva Stadium
Dream land? Heaven? Call it what you will but Giovanni Trappatoni’s Republic of Ireland are on their way to the European Championships in 2012 after a 5-1 aggregate win over their Baltic opponents Estonia. Following Friday’s trouncing in Tallinn, the Boys in Green couldn’t celebrate in style on the night despite going into a first half lead but a 1-1 draw was good enough to secure those flights to Poland/Ukraine.
For the first time since 1988, Ireland take their place in the pot for the European Championships draw which takes place on the 2nd December. It all came a lot easier than expected and when you look at the other play-off ties and how close and competitive they were, you realise how lucky we were when we drew Tarmo Ruutli’s side.
Robbie Keane continued where he left things off on Friday but on two occasions in the opening minutes couldn’t find the Estonian net. Firstly he seemed to have capitalised on hesitation in the Estonia defence but he delayed and in the end was denied by the on rushing ‘keeper. Just minutes later the Galaxy striker really should have added to his 54 goals for Ireland when a well worked free kick ended with Keane stabbing wide from a couple of yards. It seemed as if it was going to be a stroll in the park for Trap’s men but Estonia wanted to show they had earned this play-off spot and Voskoboinikov tested Given twice in quick succession.
All of Ireland’s play was coming down the left with Duff and Ward linking up well and it was that combination that earned Ireland a corner after the half hour mark. From the set piece, Doyle peeled away from his man only to see his header parried by Londak before Ward slotted home from 4 yards.
All of the chances seemed to be falling to Keane as he turned and shot under pressure before the break but it was never going to trouble Londak in the Estonia goal.
Estonia came out in the second half and looked to put a bit of respectability on the scoreboard. Ireland started the half poorly and the manager will not be happy about what happened next as the visitors pulled level.
Their captain was given time and space at the edge of the area to shoot with power but Given will be disappointed he didn’t stop it as it slipped under his arms. Trappatoni made a change and brought on McGeady for Hunt which nearly paid off immediately as the tricky winger slipped in Keane but his low goal bound effort was well blocked. Ireland tried to find that second goal as Doyle fired straight at Londak and Dunne’s header also found the grateful gloves of the Estonian shot stopper.
McGeady made a difference after coming on and when he was found by Cox on the left, things looked promising but his low cross was gratefully dived on by Londak, then the Spartak Moscow went on a run from his own half but dragged his shot well wide.
The Aviva Stadium hadn’t seen a night like it before and on front of over 51,000 people, the Boys in Green secured qualification for Poland/Ukraine. Yes we would have liked the win on the night but in truth, it doesn’t really matter. When the Dutch referee blew his final whistle, the fans went mad- bring on June 2012!
Rep of Ireland: Given, O’Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward, Duff (Fahey 79’), Whelan, Andrews, Hunt (McGeady 59’), Doyle, Keane (c) (Cox 67’)
Subs not used: Westwood, Walters, O’Dea, McCarthy
Estonia: Londak, Klavan, Jaager, Kruglov (Puri 18’), Rahn, Teniste, Lindpere (Kink 54’), Vunk, Vassilijev (c), Saag, Voskoboinikov (Purje 72’)
Subs not used : Kotenko, Barengrub, Dmitrijev, Purje, Sisov
Bookings: Rahn(10’) Vunk (66’)
Man of the match: Glenn Whelan
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers