Ireland thrashes Estonia to move in on Euro 2012

Ireland took a huge step toward qualification for the 2012

European Championship on Friday with a 4-0 win over nine-man

Estonia in the first leg of their playoff.

Goals from Keith Andrews, Jon Walters and two in the closing

stages from captain Robbie Keane gave Ireland the win, in which

Estonia’s poor defending was ruthlessly exposed by Giovanni

Trapattoni’s men.

Estonia lived up to its underdog tag, with both captain Raio

Piiroja and Andrei Stepanov sent off for second bookable


”Full credit to the players, they put in a great performance

right to the end,” Keane said. ”We got the early goal and managed

to kick on from there.”

Looking ahead to next Tuesday’s second leg in Dublin, Keane

said: ”It should be all over. You can’t take anything for granted

but if we don’t qualify we will be devastated.”

Estonia conceded 14 goals in the group stage, and the team’s

defensive frailty was on show at the A. Le Coq Arena.

Andrews gave Ireland the lead in the 13th minute with a deftly

flicked header following a cross from Aiden McGeady. Estonia

immediately had a chance to equalize, but Jarmo Ahjupera could not

connect cleanly with Dmitri Kruglov’s cross, and the ball dropped

onto the roof of Shay Given’s goal.

Kruglov could have done much better when the ball fell to him on

the left-hand corner of the six yard box, but he could only hook

the ball back across goal.

The game opened out as Estonia pressed for an equalizer. Tarmo

Kink and Martin Vunk both fired well wide, before Konstantin

Vassiljev went much closer with an effort from the edge of the

penalty area.

The home side’s hopes took a dive when Stepanov was dismissed in

the 35th minute following a brutal challenge that upended Keane

when he would have been through on goal.

Estonia switched to a three-man midfield as Ragnar Klavan moved

back into defense, and the rest of the half was played out at a

lower tempo.

The second half began at a frantic pace. Estonia went close to

equalizing when Klavan prodded his shot wide after Vassiljev

crossed low from a free-kick. Ahjupera was replaced by Vladimir

Voskoboinikov, the recalled striker, who added pace and movement to

the Estonian attack.

The pressure was leaving gaps in the Estonian defense, though,

and in the 67th minute Ireland finally took advantage. Walters

nodded down from Keane’s looping pass and the ball crossed the line

despite a desperate attempted clearance by Estonian defender


Keane made it 3-0 in the 71st minute after Pareiko spilled the

ball when making a save and Estonia was reduced to nine men in the

77th minute, when Piiroja was sent off for a second bookable


Keane added Ireland’s fourth goal from the penalty spot in the

88th minute after a rash challenge by Enar Jaager.

Given was already thinking about the second leg.

”We’re looking forward to Tuesday evening in Dublin,” said

Given. ”The fans will be in high spirits after tonight.”

Trapattoni tried to inject a note of caution, despite the margin

of victory. Before the game he had bewildered journalists by saying

the cat was not yet in the sack, meaning that the game was not a

foregone conclusion and warning against complacency.

After the game he told the media that the cat was in the sack,

but ”it is not yet closed”. He saw room for improvement in

Ireland’s play.

”I don’t want to upset anyone by saying this, but we could have

played better,” said the Italian. ”We had 10 against 11.”


Estonia: Sergei Pareiko, Enar Jaager, Andrei Stepanov, Raio

Piiroja, Ragnar Klavan, Tarmo Kink (Ats Purje, 67), Aleksandr

Dmitrijev, Martin Vunk (Joel Lindpere, 61), Dmitri Kruglov,

Konstantin Vassiljev, Jarmo Ahjupera (Vladimir Voskoboinikov,


Ireland: Shay Given, Stephen Kelly, Stephen Ward, Sean St

Ledger, Richard Dunne, Glenn Whelan (Keiyth Fahey, 78), Aiden

McGeady, Keith Andrews, Jon Walters (Simon Cox, 83), Robbie Keane,

Damien Duff (Stephen Hunt, 73).