Ireland qualify as top seeds for play-off

Rep of Ireland 2-1 Armenia

by Ryan Bailey at the Aviva Stadium

Republic of Ireland booked their place in the Euro 2012 play-offs after a frantic and slightly fortunate 2-1 victory over Armenia at the Aviva Stadium. In a game that had everything, the Boys in Green came out winners thanks to some poor referee decisions and a calamitous own goal.

If we do qualify for Poland/Ukraine next Summer then no one can question the means to the ends but Tuesday night was another nervy and tense affair with Ireland once again failing to carve open an inferior opposition.

Ireland began the game brightly but didn’t muster up a chance in the opening exchanges. In fact it was the visitors who impressed as they looked for the win that would propel them above Ireland into that play-off berth in Group B.

The real talking point of the game and also the game changer came half way through the first period. Simon Cox was sent through on goal but his attempted lob was handled by the Armenia ‘keeper outside the box according to the Spanish official and he was sent for an early shower. It was a harsh decision as the ball seemed to strike just below the ‘keepers shoulder. From the resulting free kick, Aiden McGeady didn’t test the replacement as he saw his effort go just over the bar.
Despite being harshly reduced to ten men, the young Armenian side had more of the possession and continued to pose a threat to the Irish defence which hadn’t conceded a goal in over 12 hours of international football.

The breakthrough came just before the break and to say it was a fortunate goal is an understatement. Duff, who was Ireland’s main threat down the right, whipped in a low cross and somehow Doyle missed it at the front post when the goal was gapping. Despair turned to delight though as Aleksanyan somehow bundled the ball into his own net at the back post to give Ireland a half time lead. Whether it was deserved or not is another question.

Trap’s men came out all guns blazing in the second period and began to carve open the ten men. Kelly and then Cox were both denied by last ditch tackles while Keith Andrews’ long effort struck the side netting. The home side scored a deserved second goal as McGeady’s cross was missed by Doyle only for Richard Dunne to force it home after the hour.
It seemed as if we were in for an easy last half an hour but that all changed just minutes later as the impressive Mkhitaryan’s shot slipped past Shay Given. The goal sparked the visitors into life once again and they searched for an equaliser and more. Ireland though kept hitting the Armenain’s on the break and McGeady squandered a great chance as Duff broke down the left but the Spartak Moscow winger delayed allowing reinforcements to get back.

Ireland were dealt a blow with 20 minutes left as Kevin Doyle committed a needless and rash challenge to earn himself a yellow card which put him out of the play-off first leg. Things went from bad to worse for the Wolves man as he picked up a red card after apparently elbowing the defender in an aerial challenge. It was another harsh dismissal from the Spanish referee, who had a poor game.

Ireland’s strength in depth was emphasised though as Jon Walters replaced man of the match Cox. The Stoke striker made an impact as he held the ball up well and also had a couple of efforts on goal in the final moments. Shay Given denied the visitors with a fine save with his feat but the fantastic Irish support now knew the play-off spot was ours as they lifted the roof.

It was an thoroughly entertaining game and what’s more we got the result we needed. The draw for the play-offs take place on October 13th but whoever we get, we will need to play a lot better at home then we have done so far in qualification. Doyle and Keane will now be out of both legs if the LA Galaxy man fails to recover from the injury that kept him out of tonight’s game.

Anyway, it’s all to play for now and we are just 180 minutes away from booking our flights to Poland/Ukraine next June. Ireland can be drawn with Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Turkey and Estonia.

Rep of Ireland: Shay Given, John O’Shea, Sean St Ledger, Richard Dunne, Stephen Kelly, Aidan McGeady (Stephen Hunt 67’) , Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan (Keith Fahey 75’) , Damien Duff, Kevin Doyle, Simon Cox (Jon Walters 80’).
Booked: St Ledger, Kelly, McGeady, Doyle
Red Cards: Doyle

Armenia: Berezovsky, Hayrapetyan, Aleksanyan, Ghazaryan, Hovespyan (c), Mkoyan, Malakyan, Mkhitaryan, Mkrtchyan, Movsisyan, Pizzelli
Attendance: 40,000 (estimate)
Referee: Eduardo Gonzalez (ESP)
Man of the Match: Simon Cox- Superb all round display from the front man, he certainly justified his selection and was involved in a lot of Ireland’s brightest moments.


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