Keane & Co crush Estonia to put one foot in the finals

Estonia 0 Republic of Ireland 4

A Le Coq Arena

Two years after Thierry Henry's handball and 10 years after
their last qualification to a major tournament, the Republic of
Ireland are now only 90 minutes away from Euro 2012. After all the
pain of Paris, they are set to make it there in a pleasingly serene
manner.

That is not to say last night's 4-0 victory over Estonia in Tallinn was without emotion. On the pitch the players did a lap of honour at the end before jubilantly saluting every side of the ground. Once they had gone, the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, John Delaney, conducted the crowd in joyous chants. Finally, in front of Irish television cameras, the normally stoic Ireland coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, was almost in tears.

The conservative in the Italian, however, could not quite bring himself to declare the tie decided. "In this moment, I think we are nearly qualified," he said. "We don't want to jump the gun and have to respect the opponent."

In truth, the tie is all but settled. As is the long, fractious debate about the Italian's philosophy. Over the last three years Trapattoni has often been criticised for unnecessarily constraining his side in the country's biggest tactical argument since Jack Charlton told Liam Brady to just lump it. That argument, however, was always going to be decided by the outcome of this tie. Qualification will justify everything Trapattoni has done. Failure would have vindicated his critics.

To be fair to Trapattoni, this performance showed a few signs of evolution. Right from the start Ireland radiated an air of controlled aggression going forward. Indeed, most pleasingly for the coach, the key opening goal in the 13th minute came from two players who have faced a good deal of criticism themselves. Aiden McGeady, often thought of as wasteful, supplied a clever cross from the left. Keith Andrews, routinely dismissed as one-dimensional, surged into the box to power home a header.

"He can play better again," Trapattoni said of McGeady. "The cross for the goal was fantastic. Also Damien Duff. His job was important for us."

Although often more elegant in possession, Estonia could not handle Ireland's drive. That was encapsulated in the 34th minute when centre-half Andrei Stepanov was forced into a crude foul on Robbie Keane that earned him his second yellow card and reduced the home side to 10 men.

At 1-0 up and with an extra man on the pitch, the opportunity was there for the Republic to completely kill off the tie. Would Trapattoni step up rather than stand off? The answer was an emphatic yes.

In the second half they started to stretch the game in a manner not normally associated with the team recently. Keane finally found space in the penalty area with 22 minutes to go and scooped over a delightfully inventive cross for Jonathan Walters to head home.

Three minutes later the Estonia goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko could not hold Andrew's low free-kick, allowing Keane to get on the score-sheet himself.

Soon after Estonia lost their other centre-half when Raio Piiroja was also sent off after picking up a second booking for handball. By then, the hosts were in disarray, Keane making it 4-0 from a penalty with two minutes to go when Ats Purje brought down substitute Stephen Hunt.

"Against 10 men, we could use the ball better," Trapattoni admitted. But, asked about the uncharacteristic way in which Ireland went for the jugular, the Italian insisted that it was the result of a long period of growth for his side. "Now, I am confident about the team," he said. "Tonight, we were ready. Two years ago we were not. Tonight, we showed our identity."

Ultimately, though, any provisos about seeing off such a poor side as Estonia will not show up in the records. Nor will the fact that the opposition folded after one red card and collapsed after two. What they will show is that Trapattoni is set to end Ireland's long wait for an international tournament and deliver them to just their fifth overall. They're almost there.

Estonia (4-4-2): Pareiko; Jaager, Stepanov, Piiroja, Klavan; Kink, Dmitrijev, Vunk, Kruglov; Vassiljev, Ahjupera (Voskoboinikov, 55).

Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given; Kelly, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward; Duff (Hunt, 73), Whelan (Fahey, 78), Andrews, McGeady; Walters (Simon Cox, 80), Keane.

Referee V Kassai (Hungary).

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Sport
footballLive blog: Follow the action from the Capital One Cup semi-final
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy