Ireland makes Euro 2012 with 1-1 draw vs Estonia

BY foxsports • November 16, 2011

Four goals up before they had even kicked a ball, the Irish were not going to be denied by the cruel hand of fate this time.

Ireland qualified for a major tournament Tuesday for the first time in a decade, drawing 1-1 with Estonia to clinch a place at next year's European Championship after a 5-1 win on aggregate. The victory, sealed in the second leg match of a playoff, came two years after a handball by France's Thierry Henry denied Ireland a chance at a World Cup spot.

Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni, who was recruited to Dublin four years ago to return Ireland to football's top stages, said the pain of Paris was finally behind his team.

''We deserved also to qualify in Paris,'' Trapattoni said. ''But in this second tournament, this time, we showed the Irish people that we have built a very fantastic team.''

Already leading Estonia 4-0 from last week's first playoff match, Ireland eased further ahead in the 31st minute when Estonia goalkeeper Pavel Londak spilled Kevin Doyle's header and left back Stephen Ward smashed home the rebound.

Estonia salvaged some pride in the 57th minute when captain Konstantin Vassiljev's powerful 25-yard shot dipped past Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given. But the home side advanced 5-1 on aggregate.

Ireland spurned several other scoring chances in the first half, including when captain Robbie Keane put a shot past the near post from just five yards out. ''In the first half Robbie could have scored two,'' Trapattoni said.

A capacity 51,000-strong crowd roared their approval as Trapattoni's squad did a victory lap around Dublin's year-old Aviva Stadium. Many sang rounds of ''Ole! Ole!'', the theme song from Ireland's first foray into top-flight soccer, the European Championship in 1988.

Many Ireland players noted how Irish hearts were crushed when Thierry Henry's unpunished handball helped give France a World Cup spot on Nov. 18, 2009.

''We missed out two years ago in terrible circumstances. So to get to a major championship now is an amazing feeling. It's big celebration time,'' said Irish winger Aiden McGeady.

Others cast their mind back further - to five previous playoff failures, to Ireland's last World Cup qualification in the Iranian capital, Tehran, in 2001, and to Ireland's sole previous European Championship qualification in 1988.

''This has been a long time in coming,'' said Given as he blew kisses to the crowd, still wearing his bulky goalkeepers' gloves.

''It's nearly 25 years since we've been in the European Championships, and 10 years since a major championship. These fans deserve it more than anyone. We're obviously over the moon.''

Given said Ireland had demonstrated it can compete with Europe's top sides.

''We've proved against some of the big teams in qualification that we don't fear no one,'' Given said. ''That'll be the same next summer. I don't think they'll want to meet us in the groups.''

The chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, John Delaney, offered a beaming smile as he recalled how the Irish dressing room in Paris two years ago was a scene of ''devastation, a horrible place to be.'' The successful Euro qualification campaign, he said, has ''made my life.''

Delaney noted that qualification means more than ?8 million ($11 million) in prize money for Irish football. And it provides an unquantifiable boost to a national spirit battered by debt and banking crises, stark unemployment and rising emigration.

''We've had a lot of negativity over the last couple of years. But tonight we've lifted the nation,'' he said.

Ireland's newly elected President Michael D. Higgins, who watched Tuesday's game from the stands, said the nation could barely wait for June, ''when Ireland will take its place at the heart of European football.''

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Lineups

Ireland: Shay Given; John O'Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St. Ledger, Stephen Ward; Damien Duff (Keith Fahey, 79), Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan, Stephen Hunt (Aiden McGeady, 59); Robbie Keane (Simon Cox, 68), Kevin Doyle.

Estonia: Pavel Londak; Enar Jaager, Taavi Rahn, Ragnar Klavan, Dmitri Kruglov (Sander Puri, 19); Taijo Teniste, Konstantin Vassiljev, Martin Vunk, Joel Lindpere (Tarmo Kink, 54); Kaimar Saag, Vladimir Voskoboinikov (Ats Purje, 73).


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