Keane nets in Irish victory
Captain Robbie Keane added to his record tally as Republic of Ireland secured a nervy 1-0 win over Cyprus
Last Updated: 16/10/08 11:26am
Captain Robbie Keane added to his record goal-scoring tally as Republic of Ireland maintained their impressive start to their World Cup qualifying campaign with a nervy 1-0 victory over Cyprus at Croke Park.
Keane claimed the 35th goal of his international career as Giovanni Trapattoni's revitalised side took their points tally to seven from three games to stay second in Group E behind Italy.
It took Ireland just five minutes to find the winning goal as Liverpool striker Keane, winning his 85th cap, headed in from close range following a fine run and cross from the impressive Damien Duff.
But they struggled to build on that and with Aiden McGeady missing an inviting second-half chance the Irish were relieved to hang on and avoid a repeat of the draw Cyprus achieved on their last visit to Dublin as Shay Given was forced to make a vital late save.
That result and Cyprus's 5-2 demolition of Ireland in a European Championship qualifier a year earlier in October 2006 have burnt deep into the national psyche.
The fact that Angelos Anastasiades's side returned to Dublin with only one point to show for their efforts against Italy and Georgia in their opening games in this competition when they might have emerged with all six did little to quell the sense of uneasiness ahead of kick-off.
But Trapattoni, who now boasts an unbeaten six-match start to his Irish reign, was handed a boost shortly before kick-off when winger Efstathios Aloneftis, a man he had singled out as a major threat, was forced to withdraw after the warm-up, resolving in an instant the headache over whether to play Paul McShane at right-back or move John O'Shea across.
While all eyes may have been on midfielder Darron Gibson, a controversial replacement for the injured Steven Reid, it was two more established members of the Republic side which set the tone for the night.
Where Cyprus had embarrassed the Irish with their slick inter-play and movement on their last two meetings, wingers Duff and Aiden McGeady took up the challenge of pinning the visitors back inside their own half, and did so to good effect during the opening 45 minutes.
It was they who combined to hand Keane the chance to give his side a dream start with just five minutes gone when the Celtic man picked out Duff and he supplied the perfect right-foot cross for Keane to head unopposed into the empty net.
But the torment did not end there for a strangely subdued Cyprus team with Duff shooting straight at Giorgallides after 17 minutes and McGeady forcing him to beat away a stinging drive 10 minutes later.
However, it was defender Andreas Constantinou who almost unwittingly doubled Ireland's tally 10 minutes before the break when his attempt to block a McGeady cross sent the ball looping over his own keeper, although Elia bravely headed off the line under intense pressure from Duff.
For their part, the visitors were a shadow of the team which had wrought such havoc in the past, although Given had to make a superb reaction save from striker Konstantinou after Duff had sliced Konstantinos Makridis' 15th-minute cross high into the Dublin sky.
Anastasiades' response was to shuffle his pack, with Andreas Papathanasiou coming on for late replacement Lambros Lambrou at the break and Georgios Panagi following him seven minutes later.
However, it was the home side who continued to hold the upper hand, although
Richard Dunne had to make a solid block to prevent Given from having to deal with Christofi's well-struck 50th-minute volley.
The Manchester City defender came to the rescue again eight minutes later, denying Konstantinou after Makridis and Papathanasiou had opened up Ireland for the first time in the game.
Cyprus, with newcomers Papathanasiou and Panagi particularly prominent, were starting to find their range to stretch Ireland repeatedly.
But McGeady could, and perhaps should, have calmed the nerves with 15 minutes remaining when he was handed the chance to cap an enterprising night in style.
Glenn Whelan picked him out in space on the right and with Giorgallides advancing, he chipped the ball over him with the outside of his right-foot, only to see it sail agonisingly just over the crossbar.
The ever-industrious Kevin Doyle forced a one-handed save from Giorgallides with six minutes remaining but it was Given who excelled himself once again at the death, blocking Christofi's goalbound drive with his legs.
Giorgallides kept out Duff in injury-time after Keane had launched a counter-attack from his own half but just as the tension became almost unbearable the final whistle brought welcome relief.