Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Ireland fightback falls short

Robbie Keane

Ireland's 100% record in Euro 2012 qualifying came to an end with a 3-2 defeat to Russia, but not before Giovanni Trapattoni's side had mounted a stirring comeback in a game in which they had looked dead and buried.

Robbie Keane hit the bar early on at the Aviva Stadium but for the next hour Russia dominated and deservedly went three up through Alexander Kerzhakov, Alan Dzagoev and Roman Shirokov.

A Keane penalty in the 72nd minute gave the hosts a lifeline and, when Shane Long added a second six minutes later, it seemed the Ireland could get something from the game, but Russia held on to join their opponents on six points in Group B.

Victory for Armenia over Slovakia earlier in the day gave Ireland the chance to take a stranglehold on the group, and it briefly looked like they might be able to do just that as captain Keane went close either side of two Aiden McGeady efforts.

It took only another three minutes for the breakthrough to come, but, unfortunately for the home fans, it was Shay Given who had to pick the ball out of his net. Richard Dunne gave away what appeared to be a soft free-kick for a foul on Shirokov in the left channel. The set-piece was delivered by captain Andrey Arshavin and Kerzhakov eventually scrambled home after Given had parried clear.

Ireland found themselves two down in the 28th minute. Aleksandr Aniukov was given time and space on the right to send in a cross, and a lovely dummy by the dangerous Kerzhakov allowed Dzagoev to drill the ball beyond a helpless Given.

The visitors could also have added to their tally, with Kerzhakov and Arshavin shooting off target, and at the start of the second half they were at it again as Aniukov found the side-netting.

McGeady, who has never scored for his country, then drew a decent save from Akinfeev but any hopes the home side had of getting something from the game seemed over two minutes later when Shirokov scored Russia's third from 25 yards via a telling deflection off Dunne.

Ireland's final change saw Keith Fahey introduced for Doyle in the 71st minute, and moments later they were given a lifeline when Keane chased a long ball into the area and tumbled under pressure from Chelsea defender Yuri Zhirkov. There looked to be minimal contact but Dutch referee Kevin Blom pointed to the penalty spot and Keane sent Akinfeev the wrong way.

It seemed certain to be only a consolation but suddenly Eire looked a threat, and they could have pulled another goal back had Kevin Kilbane's control been better six yards out. Incredibly, given the one-sided nature of the match thus far, they did manage a second with 12 minutes still to play when Long followed up after Akinfeev saved from McGeady.