Republic of Ireland 3 Faroe Islands 0: Robbie Keane banks three points for the Republic with a hat-trick
Robbie Keane celebrated his record-breaking 126th cap with a hat-trick as the Republic of Ireland eased past the Faroe Islands to bank three priceless World Cup points.
The 32-year-old claimed his 57th senior international goal with an accomplished finish with just five minutes gone, and then added another 10 minutes after the break from Seamus Coleman's inviting cross.
But there was more to come as substitutes James McClean and Conor Sammon teamed up to hand him his third of the night and 59th in total on a plate with nine minutes of the game remaining.
In truth, Ireland could and probably should have won even more comfortably as they dominated possession throughout a game in which keeper David Forde did not have to make a single save of note.
It was a game Ireland simply had to win if they are to stand any chance of overhauling Austria and Sweden in the race for second place in Group C behind runaway leaders Germany.
And although they might have been more clinical at times, manager Giovanni Trapattoni will have been happy enough with a win which extended his side's run since their humiliation by the Germans to just one defeat in eight games.
There was an inevitability about the identity of the Republic's match-winner as the match followed the script to the letter.
It was only five minutes old when the again impressive Wes Hoolahan and Jon Walters exchanged passes before the Norwich playmaker fed the ball out to the left, from where Aiden McGeady crossed for Keane to sweep a first-time left-foot shot past keeper Gunnar Nielsen.
The Aviva Stadium rose to acclaim a national hero before settling down in anticipation of the floodgates opening.
However, Trapattoni had warned during the build-up to the game that the Faroes would make life difficult for Ireland and while they were repeatedly at full-stretch, they managed to negotiate their way safely to the break without further mishap.
That feat was due in part to the efforts of Nielsen, who produced a string of creditable saves to rescue an at times porous defence, and the Republic's lack of a killer touch in front of goal.
Jon Walters might have made it 2-0 with just 12 minutes gone after being played in by Keane but as he unleashed his shot, full-back Jonhard Frederiksberg arrived from nowhere to make a vital block.
Frederiksberg was enduring a torrid evening as he was repeatedly targeted by McGeady down the Ireland left, although the Spartak Moscow man on more than one occasion might have done better with his final ball.
Trapattoni's men were dominating possession - Forde was largely redundant and the biggest challenge for the defenders in front of him was to maintain concentration.
Keane might have doubled his tally with 26 minutes gone when he was presented with a one-on-one from a well-worked free-kick, but this time Nielsen came out on top.
Walters planted a firm header into the keeper's hands from Marc Wilson's cross seconds later, and Nielsen then tipped a rising effort from Keane over as the Republic pressed for a second goal.
He had to save twice from McGeady as the half drew to a close with Ireland well on top, but knowing they could not relax for a moment.
Hoolahan could have calmed any nerves within four minutes of the restart when he met another McGeady cross in front of goal, but he could not keep his header down.
But the game was effectively over with 55 minutes played when full-back Coleman, who had been picked out by Hoolahan, curled in a low cross from the right which evaded Walters' lunge but was promptly dispatched by Keane as he slid in behind him.
McGeady went close once again when he saw a 70th-minute volley well saved by Nielsen following Simon Cox's inviting free-kick.
Central defender Atli Gregersen might have set up an interesting finale when he sent a 77th-minute header just over Forde's bar, but Keane struck again with nine minutes remaining after McClean and Sammon had combined to present him with the simplest of chances.
Cox very nearly added his name to the scoresheet three minutes later with a long-range strike which flew just high and wide, but victory had been secured some time earlier.
Belfast Telegraph Digital