THE Republic of Ireland qualified for their first major championship in a decade by following up their 4-0 first-leg Euro 2012 play-off win in Estonia with a 1-1 draw at home last night.
The hosts were all but assured of their passage to Poland and Ukraine after Friday’s thumping victory and full-back Stephen Ward extended their advantage after 31 minutes.
Estonia briefly interrupted the party just before the hour when captain Konstantin Vassiljev equalised.
Ireland were unable to grab the initiative back but a packed Aviva Stadium could not have cared less when the final whistle sounded and they celebrated qualification ten years to the day after beating Iran to reach the 2002 World Cup.
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni was disappointed not to be able to produce a win in front of the home fans, but was not surprised to encounter an Estonia side much improved from their first-leg drubbing.
“The second game is always difficult because this team was humiliated at home, and I said to the players ‘be careful, because these are not like the ones we met in Estonia’,” he said. “Qualifying [for the European Championships] after 25 years is like a big trophy. For me, for us, for all of the FAI, we are proud about our jobs.”
Trapattoni is expected to be rewarded with a substantial bonus and a new two-year contract, while his players will reportedly share a €4 million reward for their efforts over the campaign. The Republic will discover who they will face in Poland and the Ukraine when the draw is made in Kiev on 2 December.
It took the hosts until 14 minutes before half-time to break the deadlock. Kevin Doyle got his head to Damien Duff’s left-wing corner and the keeper could only push the ball out to Ward, who thumped it into the net.
The visitors restored pride with their second-half goal. Vassiljev’s 30-yard shot dipped and swerved and although Shay Given managed to get a hand to it, he could not keep it out as the Republic conceded just their second goal in 11 games.
Republic of Ireland: Given, O’Shea, St. Ledger, Dunne, Ward, Duff, Whelan, Andrews, Hunt, Keane, Doyle. Subs: Westwood, McGeady, McCarthy, O’Dea, Fahey, Cox, Walters.
Estonia: Londak, Jaager, Rahn, Klavan, Kruglov, Teniste, Vassiljev, Vunk, Lindpere, Saag, Voskoboinikov. Subs: Kotenko, Sisov, Dmitrijev, Puri, Kink, Purje, Barengrub.