Milestone for Keane on fine night for Ireland

FYR Macedonia 0 Republic of Ireland 2
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The Independent Football

On a glorious night for himself and his country Robbie Keane led from the front with both goals as the Republic of Ireland stayed in the race for a place in the European Championship finals with a 2-0 victory over Macedonia in a harum-scarum group B game.

In the process the Tottenham striker became the first player from the British Isles to score 50 international goals, passing Sir Bobby Charlton's 49 for England.

It took Keane, who will almost certainly be looking for a new club this summer, less than eight minutes to pass the milestone, lashing a 25-yard shot that deflected off Nikolce Noveski and flew past the home goalkeeper Martin Bogatinov. With half an hour on the clock his tally was up to 51 as he pounced on a scuffed backpass to stroke in his second.

If any further evidence was needed after those two strokes of good fortune that it would be Ireland's night, it came four minutes before the interval when John O'Shea kicked Goran Pandev in attempting to clear a loose ball but Ivan Trickovski drove the resultant penalty against the crossbar.

Giovanni Trapattoni's men were given an early reminder that they could not relax when Ivan Trickovski sent Pandev in after 13 minutes. Shay Given stayed on his feet to block with his legs and then caught Goran Popov's follow-up.

West Bromwich's Simon Cox was denied by a questionable offside flag and to add insult was booked for playing on, claiming he did not hear the whistle. But Keane's second goal, after some appalling defending by Noveski and Boban Grncarov, settled things down for Ireland until O'Shea's mishap.

Booed off at half-time, Macedonia tried to take the initiative after the restart and had the ball in the net after 11 minutes. Pandev controlled Popov's cross behind the Ireland back line before stabbing the ball past Given from close range, but the referee had spotted a handball.

Keane is transformed when he pulls on an Ireland shirt, especially with it adorned by the captain's armband and not only does he finish like a honed marksman but he spends time and energy imposing himself on his team, cajoling and encouraging where necessary.

He was everywhere on the pitch last night, and there was little sign of the groin injury that threatened to keep him out of the game. When Trapattoni made changes, it was Keane's strike partner Cox who gave way for Shane Long.

Macedonia stepped up the pressure as the half progressed, and Given had to get down to save Trickovski's shot after 66 minutes and two minutes later leapt high to push away Durovski's curling effort.

In the end though, Ireland saw out the victory, which left them locked on 13 points from six games with Russia and Slovakia.

Attendance: 18,000

Referee: Florian Meyer (Germany)

Man of the match: Keane