Richard Dunne was the Republic of Ireland's hero once again as his goal edged them past Armenia in Dublin last night and into the Euro 2012 play-offs.
The Aston Villa defender, whose man-of-the-match defensive display in Russia last month helped to secure a point, ensured all three went Ireland's way in their final Group B game with a 59th-minute goal which assured them of second place on a night when both sides had a man sent off. Russia's 6-0 win over Andorra made sure they finished top.
Giovanni Trapattoni's side will be seeded along with Portugal, Croatia and the Czech Republic in tomorrow's play-off draw in Krakow, but the Italian manager said he will accept whatever team fate sends their way. "The first and second teams in the table are always great," he said, "but it would be better to play the first game away and the second at home."
Luck was with the Republic before the break, the dangerous Armenians having their goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky sent off with just 26 minutes gone. The keeper left his penalty area to confront Simon Cox as he ran on to a ball over the top. Berezovsky blocked the striker's shot and was promptly dismissed for handling, although replays suggested that his claims he had used his chest had some merit.
The visitors' plight deepened a minute before the break when defender Valeri Aleksanian turned Damien Duff's cross into his own net, and when Dunne bundled home a second on the hour, the game looked to be over. But Henrikh Mkhitarian's strike two minutes later ended Ireland's run of eight clean sheets. Kevin Doyle was then sent off with nine minutes to go for elbowing Mkrtchian and the final whistle was greeted with as much relief as joy by the home fans.
Trapattoni's decision to play Cox rather than Shane Long paid off, although, with the play-offs and Robbie Keane's injury in mind, he will have been less pleased with Doyle's harsh dismissal and probable suspension.
Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given; O'Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Kelly; McGeady ( Hunt, 67), Whelan ( Fahey, 76), Andrews, Duff; Doyle, Cox ( Walters, 80). Substitutes not used Westwood (gk), Coleman, Long, O'Dea.
Armenia (4-4-2): Berezovsky; Hovsepian, Mkoyan, Aleksanian, Hayrapetian; Mkrtchian, Mkhitarian, Pizelli ( Manucharian, 53), Malakian ( Petrosian, 28); Ghazarian ( Sarkisov, 62), Movsisian. Substitutes not used Yuspashian, Artur Edigarian, Artak Edigarian, Badoyan.
Referee E Gonzalez (Spain).