Ireland saves Ireland
By Peter ORourke
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Stephen Ireland's last-gasp goal gave Rep of Ireland a fortunate 2-1 win over San Marino.
Stephen Ireland's last-gasp goal spared Republic of Ireland major embarrassment as they beat San Marino 2-1 in their Euro 2008 qualifier.
Ireland's miserable Euro 2008 qualifying campaign looked to be plunging to new depths when Manuel Marani's late goal cancelled out Kevin Kilbane's opener, but Manchester City midfielder Ireland's injury-time strike got his country and Steve Staunton out of jail.
The win moves Ireland into third spot in Group D, but the defeat will be heartbreak for San Marino who were on the verge of their greatest ever result.
Ireland attacked from the outset and they created their first opening on four minutes when Damien Duff hit a weak shot straight at San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini.
Ian Harte then tried his luck with a free-kick from the edge of the box which Simoncini managed to scramble away and he was on hand to save Duff's follow-up effort.
The visitors really should have broken the deadlock on 15 minutes when Ireland sent Robbie Keane clear on goal, but with only Simoncini to beat the Irish skipper drove his shot just wide of the target.
San Marino were beginning to frustrate Ireland and they were restricting them to long-range efforts as they defended deeply.
Keane had another half chance on the half hour when Kevin Kilbane teed him up, but the Spurs hit-man drove his effort wide.
Ireland continued to push forward in search of the crucial breakthrough and Richard Dunne went close when he powered Duff's corner just over the crossbar.
Kilbane had the last chance of the first half when he flashed a shot just wide of the target as San Marino held on to go in level at the break.
Ireland came out for the second half in determined fashion and they finally made the breakthrough on 49 minutes with Kilbane netting his seventh international goal. Steve Finnan flighted over a cross which debutant Shane Long flicked on for Kilbane to nod home from close-range.
Ireland really should have doubled their lead on 56 minutes when Duff worked his way past two San Marino defenders and sent in a cross which Keane somehow failed to convert from close-range.
Wayne Henderson was called into the action for the first time on 66 minutes when he was forced to get down to Manuel Marani's dangerous low cross.
But Marani then stunned Ireland four minutes from time when he grabbed an unlikely equaliser after a defensive mix-up between Henderson and Dunne.
Ireland poured forward in the closing stages in search of a winner and they saved themselves when Ireland popped up four minutes into injury-time to grab the winner with almost the last kick of the game.