Two late goals saved the Republic of Ireland from a humiliating result in Kazakhstan in their first World Cup qualifier yesterday, as Giovanni Trapattoni's side seemed to be suffering from a hangover from their disappointing Euro 2012 campaign.
With just a minute to go the Republic were deservedly trailing 1-0 in Astana, Kairat Nurdauletov having put Kazakhstan, ranked 142rd in the world, in front in the first half.
Robbie Keane then won the penalty that gave the Republic a route back into the match when he was brought down in the box by Mikhail Rozhkov. The striker converted and a minute later Kevin Doyle latched on to Stephen Ward's knockdown to volley home from close range.
Trapattoni admitted that a 2-1 win flattered his side. He said: "I think it's honest to say that we have been a little bit lucky in this game. I think we had a psychological block after we conceded because usually we have a good reaction when that happens but we didn't today."
Sunderland's James McClean tweeted his frustration at being left on the bench. He wrote: "Delighted as a fan we got the the win.. Personal level £fuming £f****njoke £embarrassing." The tweet was later deleted.
Michael O'Neill, the Northern Ireland manager, was left stunned as his side's 2-0 defeat to Russia in Moscow was sealed by a dubious penalty with 12 minutes to go.
Russia, under their new coach, Fabio Capello, were leading 1-0 through Viktor Fayzulin's 30th-minute goal in the Lokomotiv Stadium, when Craig Cathcart was harshly adjudged to have brought down Alexander Kokorin, Roman Shirokov scoring from the spot.
"I felt at 1-0 we were well in the game and that the penalty – a very soft penalty – killed the game for us," O'Neill said. "I was very surprised by the decision. My initial reaction was that the referee had booked the striker for a theatrical fall.
"There looked to be no contact whatsoever for the penalty, but the pitch was very bad so maybe he lost his footing because of that.
"The referee was very fussy towards us throughout the night. The lads didn't deserve that, they deserved to stay in the game."
Northern Ireland worked hard in an attempt to contain the home side but hardly created a chance of note, even if they had their own shouts for a penalty late on for handball in the area.
"Russia are a very strong team, we knew that from the analysis we did," O'Neill said. "We could have been better in possession, the players know that, but I would rather focus on positives – the discipline, the shape and the work rate of the team was fantastic."
Capello tried to blame his side's rather uninspired display on the visitors. "To play attractive football you need two good teams, here one team wanted to play long balls," he claimed. "It was also difficult because the pitch was not good and we could not play the ball properly.Reuse content