The Republic of Ireland’s hopes of securing a World Cup play-off place suffered a grievous blow last night when they let slip a one-goal lead to lose 2-1 to close rivals Sweden in Dublin, the veteran midfielder Anders Svensson getting the Swedes’ winner.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s side were rewarded for a good start at the Aviva Stadium when Robbie Keane gave them the lead in the 22nd minute, latching on to Mikael Lustig’s poor header and scoring at the second attempt. Sweden drew level 11 minutes later, Norwich striker Johan Elmander outjumping Richard Dunne, who was making his first start for the Irish in over a year, to power a header past goalkeeper David Forde.
The visitors dominated the second half and it was no surprise just before the hour when Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s through ball set up Svensson for the former Southampton player, who was winning his 143rd cap, to run through and score. Keane nearly latched on to a Shane Long header at the death but the Republic now face an uphill task to finish second in Group C.
Scotland battled hard but lost 2-0 to a classy Belgium side at Hampden Park. The Scots were on the back foot from the start and after Christian Benteke and Marouane Fellaini had gone close, the visitors, who were without the injured Eden Hazard, took the lead seven minutes before half-time. Kevin De Bruyne was released down the right as the Belgians broke and Steven Defour swept his cross into the far corner of the net.
Alan Hutton had strong appeals for a penalty ignored by the referee in the second half and substitute Jordan Rhodes went close from six yards but Kevin Miralles wrapped up victory for Belgium with two minutes to go after being set up by Fellaini.
Cristiano Ronaldo hit a hat-trick in a stormy game in Belfast as Portugal came from 2-1 down to win 4-2 against Northern Ireland, who finished the game with nine men.
Northern Ireland fell behind midway through the first half to Bruno Alves’ volley from the edge of the penalty area. Gareth McAuley equalised in the 36th minute and things appeared to turn the home side’s way when former the Tottenham striker Helder Postiga was sent off two minutes before half-time for appearing to aim a headbutt at McAuley.
Derby County striker Jamie Ward put Michael O’Neill’s side ahead in the 52rd minute with a close-range header. However, Chris Brunt was sent off and Ronaldo took over, a pair of powerful headers and a late free-kick giving Portugal victory before Kyle Lafferty’s late dismissal.
Wales, who kept £86m man Gareth Bale on the bench because of lack of match fitness, crashed to a 2-1 defeat to FYR Macedonia in Skopje. Chris Coleman’s side fell behind against the run of play when the ball dropped from a deflected free-kick to Ivan Trickovski, who scored with a low shot and then copied Bale’s “heart” goal celebration.
The in-form Aaron Ramsey hauled the Welsh level from the penalty spot six minutes before half-time after the Arsenal midfielder had been brought down in the area. Yet after Jack Collison had missed a good chance to give them the lead, Aleksandar Trajkovski was allowed to turn on the edge of the box and fire Macedonia’s winner past Boaz Myhill with 10 minutes to go.
Elsewhere, France could only draw 0-0 with Georgia in Tiblisi, meaning Spain moved three points clear at the top of Group I with a 2-0 win in Finland, Manchester City’s Alvaro Negredo scoring their second.
The Netherlands needed a Robin van Persie penalty in the 90th minute to salvage a 2-2 draw with Estonia.
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