Doyle gets Ireland out of jail in Astana
Kazakhstan 1 Republic of Ireland 2:Substitute Kevin Doyle produced some late magic on the carpet of the Astana Arena as the Republic of Ireland played their get out of jail card early on in Group Three to claim the three points with two goals in the closing stages.
Trailing to Kairat Nurdauletov’s first-half strike and looking listless against a side ranked 142nd in the world, Ireland received a lifeline when Doyle was fouled on the line in the 87th minute.
Skipper Robbie Keane, who had a quiet game up to that point, held his nerve to knock home the spot kick and secure his 54th international goal.
That wasn’t the end of the drama as in extra time a well-worked free-kick in midfield saw Glenn Whelan find the head of Stephen Ward in the Kazakhstan box. The Wolves defender headed the ball across for the in-rushing Doyle, who volleyed home beautifully to secure the three points.
And that’s all Ireland will take away from the game, as they struggled to cope with the plastic pitch and an opposition who were well able to knock the ball around and troubled Ireland on many occasions.
James McCarthy almost got Ireland off to the perfect start when he curled a low shot towards goal but goalkeeper Andrey Sidelnikov tipped the midfielder’s shot wide with an athletic save.
John O’Shea’s header from the resulting corner would have gone in had it not been for a deflection as the visitors dominated proceedings early on after adapting well to the astroturf pitch inside the arena.
The Kazakhs then started to settle into their rhythm and threatened through Tanat Nusserbayev, the FC Astana forward who once claimed he was as fast as Theo Walcott.
Nusserbayev was in the thick of the action moments later when he drove at the Irish defence, but his threaded pass to Alexandr Kirov went to waste after the full back mistimed his run.
Panic spread across the Irish defence when a cross trickled through to the back post where Ulan Konysbayev was lurking but Keiren Westwood moved sharply off his line to snatch the ball from the midfielder’s feet.
A neat interchange from Jon Walters and Simon Cox gave the Nottingham Forest man an opportunity at the other end but he hit the side-netting.
Robbie Keane, who had been having a quiet game, slipped in to the box on the half hour mark and tried to reach an Aiden McGeady cross but he was impeded by Mikhail Rozkhov. The Los Angeles Galaxy man appealed for a penalty but the referee played on.
The Romanian official produced his first yellow card of the game soon after when Nusserbayev slid in dangerously on O’Shea.
Sean St Ledger headed weakly at Sidelnikov but Ireland were failing to produce any real threat to the Kazakh goal.
The largely quiet home crowd erupted with nine minutes to go before half-time when Genrikh Shmidtgal swung in a wicked left-foot free-kick and Nurdauletov glanced home from 10 yards.
It was almost 2-0 moments later. Konysbayev beat the offside trap and shot at goal. Westwood’s parry fell straight in to the path of Nusserbayev but he struck a post while the Sunderland keeper lay stricken on the turf.
Trapattoni mixed it up again in the 70th minute when he took Walters off for Shane Long.
Whelan tried a long shot that summed up the desperation as the clock ticked on with no equaliser.
Baurzhan Jolchiyev managed to wrestle his way through a dormant Irish back four but Westwood pulled off a terrific save to deny the substitute what surely would have been the clinching goal.
The away side plugged away and were handed a way back in to the tie three minutes from time when Keane was bundled over in the box by Rozhkov and the referee pointed to the spot.
The former Tottenham striker showed nerves of steel to calmly despatch the spot-kick to the Kazakh goalkeeper’s right.
The visitors completed their stunning comeback in the final minute when Doyle latched on to Ward’s knock-down and volleyed home from close range.