Keane leaves it late to boost Republic's hopes

Cyprus 1 Republic of Ireland 2
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The Independent Football

Robbie Keane scored a late winner here last night to bring the Republic of Ireland a step closer to qualifying for the World Cup. The Tottenham striker produced a powerful header to beat goalkeeper Sofronis Avgousti in the 83rd minute after meeting a pinpoint cross from Damien Duff.

Ireland thereby avenged a 5-2 defeat in Cyprus in a European Championship qualifier three years ago and they can now look to gain a place in the play-offs. "We are very happy for this victory because we started very well," said Ireland's coach Giovanni Trappatoni. "But after 20 minutes we lost our confidence and our opponents put us under pressure." The veteran Italian admitted: "Cyprus deserved a draw."

Ireland had taken the lead in the fifth minute when Kevin Doyle seized on a loose ball from a corner. The visitors then missed several chances to double the score early on against an unsteady home defense.

Cyprus came close when Ioannis Okkas' high, looping header from an Efstathios Aloneftis cross was well saved by a diving Shay Given. The hosts missed another chance to score when a cross from Aloneftis found a sliding Okkas, who could only steer the ball into Given's hands.

But then Cyprus equalised on the half-hour as an unmarked Marios Ilia fired a low, hard shot from just inside the box into the left-hand corner.

In the 36th minute, Keith Andrews sent a low shot from 30 yards just wide of the right-hand post. A minute later, Kevin Kilbane headed a free kick from Duff just over the Cypriot crossbar.

Ireland's best chance in the second half came five minutes after the interval when Glenn Whelan's half-volley was instinctively saved by Avgousti, who tipped the ball over the crossbar.

Austrian referee Thomas Einwaller ignored Cyprus' appeals for a penalty in the 62nd minute when Okkas complained that he was tripped by Richard Dunne inside the box.

Elias Charalambous failed to connect with a header 10 yards out, leaving Keane to apply the finishing touch and leave Ireland in second place in Group Eight, a point behind Italy with a game in hand.