Ruthless Republic get the party started as Estonia are hammered in Tallinn
Estonia 0 Republic of Ireland 4: A night beyond any visiting Irishman's wildest dreams. Barring a collapse that would make Devon Loch's woe tame in comparison, the Republic’s major tournament drought will end in Dublin on Tuesday.
It should be closer to a victory parade than a nail biting occasion. Giovanni Trapattoni was quick to preach caution in the aftermath of this success but, in the back of his mind, he will know that the mission is practically accomplished.
He can start to think with confidence about a further two years in the job, after his team eventually coasted to success against an Estonian side that finished with nine men.
The natives cried foul at refereeing decisions, yet there was no injustice here.
They were rightly reduced to ten men in the first half for two bookable offences and, while the second dismissal in the final quarter was less clear-cut, the visitors were three goals up at that point.
It was already game over.
This was an exercise in steamrolling rather than a display of footballing beauty.
In truth, nobody expected any different. Trapattoni's men delivered a performance in keeping with many others during his reign.
The emphatic final scoreline was borne from Estonia's inability to cope with the pressure of the occasion.
Victory was a warm tonic on a chilly evening in Tallinn. They're not used to nights like this at the A Le Coq arena.
Punters were still filtering into the ground midway through the first half, with long queues still visible before kick-off.
The latecomers missed a goal. An Irish goal. Thirteen frantic minutes had passed before the breakthrough. Estonia had actually started brightly without any semblance of a cutting edge.
Then the visitors attacked and found an end product. Aiden McGeady twisted and turned down the left flank and the Spartak Moscow winger, who sometimes disappoints with the final ball, found the perfect delivery.
Keith Andrews rose highest in the box to steer an accurate header beyond the despairing lunge of Sergei Pareiko.
Naturally, Estonia produced a response, and a diagonal ball which caught out Stephen Kelly gave Dmitri Kruglov a chance that he fluffed.
More pressure followed, with the dangerous Konstantin Vassiljev twice taking aim from dis
tance. As he had indicated earlier in the week, Trapattoni started Walters alongside Robbie Keane up front.
It helped that the Estonians lacked real fluency in possession, a flaw that was exposed in the incident that put the Republic in a dream position.
A poor pass from midfielder Aleksandr Dmitrjiev wasn't anticipated by Andrei Stepanov, but Robbie Keane reacted and was taken down by the veteran.
Republic players cried for a straight red as the Estonian was the last man and Trapattoni harangued the fourth official when Hungarian ref Viktor Kassai, failing to realise that Stepanov was booked minutes earlier for bringing a McGeady run to an abrupt end. Marco Tardelli told Trapattoni the good news; the hosts were a man down.
After the break a stoppage forced by an injury to Damien Duff gave the Republic a chance to regroup, and the second goal followed in due course. Walters was both the creator and the goalscorer. Again, his upper body strength
brought a clearance to earth, and he fed Keane who in turn released McGeady.
The left winger's shot was parried by Pareiko into the path of Keane, who scooped to the back post where his strike partner rose to dispatch.
Andrews burst into the Estonian half and was brought to the ground. He dusted himself down for the free kick and unleashed a rasper that Pareiko again generously pushed into the direction of Keane.
This time, the skipper had time and space to apply the final touch himself. Estonia must have thought their night couldn't get any worse, but it did.
Their skipper, Raio Piiroja, who endured a torrid evening, halted a Keane advance and the Hungarian official reached into his pocket for the yellow that brought his night to a premature end.
Trapattoni worked his bench, with Stephen Hunt, Keith Fahey and Simon Cox sent into the fray.
Almost immediately, Hunt raced into the box and was fouled by Ats Purje. Penalty and another goal for Keane.
Hugs all around, and they continued at the final whistle with frenzied embraces in the away end as the refereeing team were given hell by the locals.
The Republic players didn't notice as they were in heaven.