Ireland reserves place to Euro 2012
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.
Already leading 4-0 after 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 meters (yards).
A capacity 51,000-strong crowd roared their approval as Giovanni Trapattoni's steady, well-organized squad did a victory lap around Dublin's year-old Aviva Stadium. Many sang rounds of ''Ole! Ole!'', the theme song from Ireland's last European Championship run in 1988.
Many Ireland players noted that, almost exactly two years ago, Irish hearts were crushed when Thierry Henry's unpunished handball helped give France a World Cup spot.
''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 European Championship qualification before Tuesday.
''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 that 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.''
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).