Irish hopes hang in balance after late show

Republic of Ireland 2 Italy 2: Italian equaliser in added time secures holders' berth at World Cup while Ireland are left with tricky play-off route

The defending champions, Italy, required an equalising goal at the start of added time last night to secure a place at next summer's World Cup finals, while the Republic of Ireland were left to continue gazing at the posters all over Dublin featuring Giovanni Trapattoni's face and one word, "Hope". Trapattoni's team, unbeaten after nine group matches, have qualified for next month's play-offs, although when Middlesbrough's Sean St Ledger scored his first international goal in the 88th minute for a 2-1 lead, the hope was for something even better: the possibility of winning the section if Italy slipped up at home to improving Cyprus on Wednesday.

A place in the play-offs was always the most likely outcome and it is already a source of some discontent for the Irish. Until three weeks ago they believed Fifa would be operating an open draw, but now the four countries with the highest co-efficients will be seeded – France, Portugal, Russia and Greece – with Ireland among the four outsiders.

What they could not complain about was the fairness of the result, sickening as it was to have a famous victory snatched away so late in the day. Italy recovered with the spirit and skill of champions after conceding an early goal and again after St Ledger's intervention. In Andrea Pirlo and Daniele de Rossi they had a perfect midfield combination of silk and steel. Stoke's Glenn Whelan, despite striking a superb goal, and Blackburn's Keith Andrews understandably struggled to match them and could never keep the ball for any length of time.

Whelan's goal, which briefly had all the old anthems rending the Dublin air, was beautifully executed, albeit against some unexpectedly lax defending. Robbie Keane had a won a free-kick down the right from Nicola Legrottaglie's crude challenge. Liam Lawrence, given his first competitive appearance in place of the injured Damien Duff, shaped as if to cross the ball, then cut it back to Whelan, who was completely alone and allowed to set himself for a wonderfully curled shot going away from Gianluigi Buffon and into the top corner of the net.

Buffon, like Kevin Kilbane and Shay Given, was making his 99th international appearance. The Manchester City goalkeeper soon found himself much the busier of the two, however, as a wall of pressure built up that finally broke the dam. After a succession of four chances in as many minutes, Pirlo took a corner and Mauro Camoranesi, one of the smallest players on the pitch, was allowed a header that Given could not quite repel.

When Trapattoni wanted fresh inspiration in the second half he had to turn to representatives of Coventry City and Queens Park Rangers in Leon Best and Martin Rowlands, with only three caps apiece. The third substitute, Stephen Hunt, offered timely direct running on the left and with five minutes to play he was fouled by Gianluca Zambrotta. Hunt took the free-kick himself and St Ledger, occasionally uncertain in defence, became a potential hero with a thrusting header.

Alas, there was more to come: John O'Shea and then St Ledger were caught out on the counter as Vincenzo Iaquinta moved out to the left and crossed for substitute Alberto Gilardino to secure the holders' passage.

Italy's coach Marcello Lippi said: "It was an excellent match and Italy played with authority against a team with strong spirit. To lose would have been very unfair." Trapattoni felt Ireland should have been more Italian at the end. "We needed to lose the time," he said. "It is a young team, and I hope it will be a great lesson." The hope is that they will learn it in time for next month.

Attendance: 70,640

Referee: Terje Hauge (Nor)

Man of the match: Pirlo

Match rating: 8/10

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot