Ireland need point against Armenia to reach play-offs


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Another play-off, and what torment they have brought the Irish over the years, would appear to be the best the Republic of Ireland can hope for after Alan Dzagoev's 71st-minute goal secured Russia a narrow 1-0 victory over Slovakia in Zilinia last night to take them within a point of Euro 2012.

The Republic beat Andorra 2-0 in the Pyrenees, goals from Kevin Doyle and Aiden McGeady giving them a comfortable win, but trail Russia by two points. If the teams finish level Russia qualify due to a better head-to-head record so a point from their final match will be enough. Since it is at home to Andorra on Tuesday, Russia can start preparing to cross the border into Poland and Ukraine.

Adding to the pressure on Giovanni Trapattoni's men was Armenia's impressive 4-1 victory over John Toshack's Macedonia. Armenia, who have won their last three matches, scoring 11 goals to one, overtake Ireland if they win in Dublin on Tuesday.

Northern Ireland's slim chances of qualifying were extinguished after they were controversially defeated 2-1 in Belfast by Estonia in what will probably be Nigel Worthington's last game as manager. Having led through Steven Davis's first-half goal, Northern Ireland conceded two goals to Konstantin Vassiljev, a penalty then a strike that followed a linesman flagging for offside but being ignored. The crowd called for Worthington to be sacked at the final whistle after two wins in 23 matches under his command.

Paris will be as tense as Dublin on Tuesday as France must avoid defeat to Bosnia-Herzegovinia to qualify. Both teams won last night, France defeating Albania 3-0, Florent Malouda scoring the first, and Bosnia-Herzegovina putting five goals past Luxembourg without reply. Manchester City's Edin Dzeko was among the scorers.

Goals inside the hour from Sunderland's Seb Larsson and Blackburn's Martin Olsson earned Sweden a 2-1 win in neighbouring Finland. That not only ensured a second-place finish, but also meant that, if they defeat group winners the Netherlands at home on Tuesday, Erik Hamren's side will qualify for the finals as the best second-place finisher. That the Dutch only beat Moldova 1-0 suggests their focus has slipped but Sweden will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is suspended after being booked last night. "It was cheap. The referee apologised to me and said he was wrong," said Ibrahimovic.

Germany underlined their potential next summer with a 3-1 win in Istanbul against a Turkey side that was playing for second place. Martin Atkinson was officiating, his first match since erroneously dismissing Everton's Jack Rodwell in the Merseyside derby last weekend. This time he kept his red card in his pocket. Italy, who have also already qualified, were held to a draw by Serbia, for whom Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic scored while holders Spain, another qualified team, gave Scotland a boost when they beat the Czech Republic in Prague 2-0 with goals from Juan Mata and Xabi Alonso.