Ireland in control of their destiny
Richard Dunne makes a decisive intervention, stopping a certain Russian goal at the Luzhniki Stadium. - (Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho)
Group B review:After a bizarre day in Group B of the Euro 2012 qualifiers, the Republic of Ireland know maximum points in their final two games will guarantee at least a play-off place. A hard-fought point in Moscow, courtesy of heroics by Shay Given and Richard Dunne, rocketed in value when Armenia later plundered a 4-0 win in Slovakia.
It leaves Giovanni Trapattoni’s side a point ahead of both those teams on 15 and two behind leaders Russia. With two games remaining, Ireland can score a maximum 21 points compared to Slovakia’s and Armenia’s 20. Russia can take 23 but have to face Slovakia away on October 7th.
Ireland travel to Andorra on the same day, while Armenia host Macedonia ahead of a final game in Dublin.
Presuming both win their games before then, a draw at home would be good enough for Ireland to finish ahead of their visitors. Similarly, if Slovakia lose to Russia, they would not be able to surpass Ireland if Trapattoni’s men take four points from two games.
This incredible turn of events first took shape in Moscow this afternoon, where Ireland were battered by their hosts, who had 67 per cent possession and 26 shots but failed to score.
Given produced three stunning saves, including one to keep out Konstantin Zyryanov’s 88th-minute header, while Dunne made vital blocks from Igor Semshov and Roman Shirokov as Ireland left Moscow with a point for the first time.
"They had many chances, but our defence was fantastic, Shay Given, Richard Dunne and O'Dea," said Giovanni Trapattoni afterwards. "This is a good point because they have another game against Slovakia.
"In one month, I hope we will be fitter, because some players were not as fit - like Robbie Keane, McGeady and Doyle.
He added: "I think Russia have a very different game against Slovakia. But at the moment it is better to look at ourselves. Armenia and Andorra, we must believe in the result we had here."
Richard Dunne, who landed face first on the running track after tackling Yuri Zhirkov on the touchline in the second half, was pleased with the effort shown by the team.
“It was tough game and we knew we had to come here and do something similar to what we did in Paris,” he said. “I think it’s seven games without a goal now and hopefully it’s kept us in the competition.
He added: “I take bangs and knocks all the time in games, but to come here and get a point is a good result. We knuckled down and gave a performance I think we can be proud off."
The Aston Villa defender, who will miss the Andorra game after he was harshly awarded his fourth yellow card of the campaign for that tackle, finished the game wearing a makeshift number five shirt after being made to remove the bloodied original.
Goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly had to draw the number on a blank one using a marker pen, but that may now be one of his proudest possessions after he led a gutsy defensive effort that keeps hopes of automatic qualification from Group B alive.
Possibly more improbable than Ireland escaping with a point was Armenia’s stunning result this evening, which came after they fired home four goals in the second half in Zilina.
Slovakia dominated the first half but paid the price for wasted chances by Napoli's Marek Hamsik and Liverpool's Martin Skrtel.
Armenia turned the tables in the second half of the game, with Yura Movsisyan opening the score for the visitors in the 57th minute.
Shakhtar Donetsk's Henrik Mkhitaryan scored the second in the 70th before Gevorg Ghazaryan made it 3-0 with 10 minutes to play and 24-year-old Artur Sarkisov concluded the rout in injury time.