Koumas brace spoils Irish hopes


Wales 2-2 Republic of Ireland:Jason Koumas scored twice as Wales fought back for the point they just about deserved in the Euro 2008 qualifier against the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff.

The Wigan midfielder headed Wales ahead in the first half, but slowly the Irish forced their way back into the lead with goals from Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle.

And as the second period moved to a close, the visitors were on the brink of their first win in Group D since March, a run that has cost them qualification and Steve Staunton his job as manager.

Wales, though, had different targets. They needed a much better performance than some woeful recent efforts, and this time boss John Toshack got what he wanted.

It fell to Koumas to step up and crash home the late equaliser from the penalty spot, to give Wales some comfort from a disappointing campaign.

Wales were already without key players Craig Bellamy and Gareth Bale through injury, and Toshack's selection problems were made worse when Lewin Nyatanga suffered a groin injury in training on Friday while Robert Earnshaw was still suffering from sickness.

It meant that 18 year-old Cardiff defender Chris Gunter was a late call-up for only his second cap. Carl Fletcher was also called in, with Wales playing just one striker in Freddy Eastwood.

The Irish had no such problems. The team that caretaker boss Don Givens named 24 hours ahead of the match, was the one that made the match, including only two players from outside the Barclays Premier League. Wales named just four from the top flight.

Welsh hopes were hardly helped inside a Millennium Stadium containing little more than a third full.

Neal Eardley found himself up against Celtic's flying winger Aiden McGeady - a tough baptism at the venue for the 19 year-old.

McGeady's run and cross presented Robbie Keane with a header, saved by Wayne Hennessey, while the Irish skipper tested the Wolves youngster from 20 yards.

Wales' enforced system gave them an extra man in midfield, Jason Koumas left free to run at the heart of the Irish defence.

Koumas, skipper Simon Davies and Carl Fletcher combined well to allow Gunter a run and cross from the left, but Joe Ledley miskicked from six yards out and Koumas eventually blasted the chance high over.

However it was Wales who drew first blood. Joe Ledley got past Steve Finnan after 23 minutes with a clever change of pace before cutting back to lift a fine cross into the box where Koumas headed down and away from a stranded Shay Given.

Three minutes later it was Ledley again creating the danger with a cross which deflected off Kevin Kilbane straight into Fletcher's path, but the midfielder held his head in his hands after blazing over from 10 yards.

The Irish responded with a strong run into the box by Kevin Doyle, but young Gunter did well to get across and block the shot.

But the next Irish attacked produced the equaliser after 31 minutes. Doyle threaded a pass through to Keane, who raced away with Wales appealing for offside. But the Tottenham star kept going and lifted his effort past Hennessey.

Wales then had the experienced Carl Robinson carried off with an ankle injury after 36 minutes, allowing Luton's David Edwards, 21, his international debut in midfield.

Wales put Ledley into a more central role after the break, with Koumas on the left, and they seemed intent on reclaiming the initiative they had slowly lost to the Irish in the first period.

It took a fine Given tip-over two minutes into the half to stop a deflected Eastwood header dropping into the net. Then Davies saw a 20-yard shot deflected inches over.

Koumas was booked for complaining about not getting a penalty when he went down under a challenge from Finnan. Jermaine Easter took over from Eastwood on the hour, with the Irish replacing Liam Miller with Stephen Hunt.

And Hunt's first touch set up the Republic's second goal. The Reading midfielder got away down the left and sent in a curling, low cross for his club-mate Doyle to slide in off the far post.

Now in front, the Irish experience started to show. Wales had done well - their movement and effort was not in doubt - but the Republic's men showed more edge.

Given still had to make a flying save to turn away a 25-yard shot from Koumas, but the Irish looked more likely to score again. Andy Reid curled a clever free-kick just wide, and it looked as though one more goal would kill off Wales at this point.

Wales sent on David Cotterill for Eardley with 10 minutes left, Gunter switching from left to right and Ledley dropping into defence.

But Wales were not finished. Cotterill chased down a long ball and got ahead of Paul McShane. And as the pair reached the box the Sunderland defender hauled Cotterill back.

Ukrainian referee Oleh Oriekhov gave the penalty and Koumas stepped up to blast it past Given.