Republic of Ireland 1-0 Germany: Shane Long goal hands Irish a priceless win over world champions
Shane Long's 14th international goal handed the Republic of Ireland a priceless 1-0 win over world champions Germany and blew the race for Euro 2016 qualification wide open.
The Southampton striker came off the bench to thump a 70th-minute thunderbolt past the helpless Manuel Neuer to hand the Republic their biggest competitive victory since they defeated Holland in a World Cup qualifier in 2001.
Love to my brother Keano and the Irish squad on a big win today. Got this vid of them listening to #WhatDoYouMean after the win. Love it.— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) October 9, 2015
Ireland's success, coupled with Poland's 2-2 draw with Scotland, means that Martin O'Neill's men are guaranteed a top-three finish and a play-off place at worst, but they will head for Warsaw on Sunday knowing they could still top Group D.
It was a night for heroes at the Aviva Stadium as Martin O'Neill's depleted team stood firm in the face of a German onslaught and took their chance when it came in front of a delirious full house of 50,604.
O'Neill sprang something of a surprise when, with defenders Seamus Coleman and Ciaran Clark injured and midfielder Glenn Whelan suspended, he handed Burnley defender Stephen Ward a first cap since November last year with only a single Capital One Cup appearance to his name this season.
Richard Keogh, Cyrus Christie and, again to raised eyebrows, Daryl Murphy also got the nod against a Germany side featuring seven of the men who played in the World Cup final in Brazil last summer.
Predictably, Joachim Low's men dominated possession. Less predictably, they failed to do a great deal with it as Ireland keepers Shay Given and Darren Randolph, who replaced the injured 39-year-old two minutes before the break, did not have a single save of note to make.
For that, they were indebted to skipper John O'Shea, who blocked Ilkay Gundogan's 13th-minute shot over his own bar, and central defensive partner Richard Keogh who managed to prevent Mesut Ozil from reaching Matthias Ginter's cross two minutes later.
The visitors thought they had taken the lead when Thomas Muller drove the ball across the penalty area and inside the far post as Ozil tried to get there ahead of Given, although whether or not he got a touch was irrelevant as the offside flag halted German celebrations.
Ireland were able to muster little going forward in front of a boisterous home crowd well aware of Poland's early goal, with Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady - released back into midfield by Ward's inclusion - attempting to link with Murphy and Jonathan Walters.
However, they rode their luck as time ran down when Ozil met another Muller cross unmarked but steered his left-foot effort wide.
There was little let-up after the break as Germany pressed Ireland ever deeper, but once again, the Republic responded in dogged fashion.
They were almost undone 10 minutes after the restart when Marco Reus latched on to a long clearance and crossed for substitute Andre Schurrle, whose volley at full stretch flew high and wide.
The game was opening up, although at times dangerously so for O'Neill's side, although the home fans were off their seat with 64 minutes gone when Murphy blasted a long-range effort just wide of the upright after Hoolahan's initial shot had been blocked by Mats Hummels.
Long replaced Murphy almost immediately and the newcomer had only five minutes to wait for his big moment, running on to Randolph's clearance and hammering the ball past the stranded Neuer to raise the roof at the Aviva.
Hummels and Muller passed up glorious opportunities to level in quick succession and Jerome Boateng and Gundogan both forced Randolph into important - if routine - saves as time ran down, but Ireland were not to be denied.
The clocked ticked agonisingly through four minutes of stoppage time before referee Carlos Carballo's whistle sparked mass celebration on and off the pitch.
Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill handed full-back Stephen Ward a surprise recall as he shuffled his pack for the Euro 2016 showdown with world champions Germany.
The Burnley defender, who has played only once for his club this season, was drafted into the starting line-up in one of four changes to the side which ran out against Georgia last month as he, Cyrus Christie, Richard Keogh and Daryl Murphy replaced the injured Seamus Coleman and Ciaran Clark, the suspended Glenn Whelan and skipper Robbie Keane, who was named among the substitutes.
Germany counterpart Joachim Low kept faith with nine of the men who started in Scotland last time out. Bastian Schweinsteiger, who is one booking away from a ban, and Emre Can sat out with Marco Reus and Matthias Ginter getting the nod.
Martin O'Neill is hoping the Republic of Ireland can hand Robbie Keane and his fellow stalwarts the perfect swansong by qualifying for Euro 2016.
Keane, 35, together with 34-year-old central defender John O'Shea and goalkeeper Shay Given, who is 39, have a total of 380 senior caps between them and are coming towards the end of their distinguished international careers.
However, as they and their team-mates prepare for Thursday evening's Group D qualifier against Germany at the Aviva Stadium, they still have a chance of making it to another finals tournament in France next summer.
Asked where a win over the world champions would rank in his career, manager O'Neill said: "I genuinely don't think that's wildly important. The time to reflect on things is when you have got about 25 minutes left on this earth - and by that time, it's probably too late.
"Genuinely, I am not wildly concerned about it. It would be really terrific if we could make it to France one way or the other. If we could get a result here, it would be terrific. It keeps a bit of momentum going."
O'Neill, who was joined at his pre-match press conference by skipper Keane, added: "Obviously selfishly, I would like to qualify for myself and the backroom staff, but for some of the players, including the man beside me here, it would be terrific. It would be a nice send-off for his international career."
The Republic head into the game and the trip to Poland which follows on Sunday knowing they could still qualify automatically, secure a play-off berth or miss out altogether, and in reality they are pinning their hopes on the middle option.
Keane, who trained with his team-mates on Wednesday morning for the first time since his delayed arrival from Los Angeles as he attended the birth of his second son, needs just one more goal for his country to match German superstar Gerd Muller's tally of 68 for his country, although he insists that has not even crossed his mind.
He said: "It would be great, but I haven't thought about it."
Bayern Munich announced earlier this week that 69-year-old Muller is receiving treatment for Alzheimer's disease, and Keane offered his best wishes to the player whose goals came in just 62 internationals for West Germany.
He said: "It's obviously very, very sad. He was an absolutely fantastic player to have that many goals for your country in the amount of games that he played is absolutely incredible. All I can do is wish him well."
Belfast Telegraph Digital