World Cup Qualifiers round-up: Dunne deal keeps Irish on Italy's heels

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The Independent Online

The Republic of Ireland stayed in the hunt for a place in the World Cup finals in South Africa next year with a crucial 1-1 draw away to Bulgaria that kept them on the heels of Italy in second place in Group Eight.

Richard Dunne, the Manchester City defender, headed the Republic into the lead in the 24th minute, but Bulgaria, third in the group, five points behind Ireland, equalised within five minutes at the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia.

Ireland, who began with a sense of urgency, took the lead after Stephen Hunt was tripped by Stanislav Angelov on the left. Hunt took the free-kick himself and Dunne rose unchallenged to head home powerfully.

Bulgaria's equaliser stemmed from a long, lofted pass which the midfielder Dimitar Telkiyski chased before side-footing the ball easily past the advancing Shay Given.

Bulgaria started to build pressure before half-time and almost took the lead eight minutes before the break when Manchester City's Valeri Bojinov sent in a snapshot from inside the box and Dunne headed clear in front of his own goal.

The home side dominated possession in the second half, but Ireland kept them at bay and almost stole victory at the end when the substitute Aiden McGeady cut in from the right and fired a shot inches wide.

Holland became the first European side to qualify for the finals when won 2-1 in Iceland in Group Nine, Scotland's section. Nigel de Jong and Marc van Bommel set them on their way with early goals.

Japan became the first team of all to qualify when they beat Uzbekistan 1-0 in a Group One qualifier in Tashkent, Shinji Okazaki heading in the only goal nine minutes into the game. Japan were followed into the finals by Australia, who secured the other spot from Asian Group One by drawing 0-0 away to Qatar. South Korea became the third qualifier with a 2-0 victory in the UAE, which ensured a place from Group Two.

Brazil's chances of winning the South American qualifying group were boosted by a stunning 4-0 victory away to Uruguay, despite having Luis Fabiano sent off midway through the second half after scoring the third goal. Daniel Alves and Juan scored in the first half and Kaka completed the scoreline from ther penalty spot.

Northern Ireland were given a lesson by Italy in a friendly match in Pisa in which both sides fielded experimental line-ups. The Italians won 3-0 with Giuseppe Rossi opening the scoring with a left-foot shot from outside the penalty area. Pasquale Foggia dribbled through and chipped in the second in the 53rd minute and Sergio Pellissier added the third after Irish goalkeeper Jonathan Tuffey had saved a Giampaolo Pazzini penalty.

Steven Pienaar, the Everton midfielder, helped to set up the only goal as the World Cup hosts completed their preparations for the Confederations Cup with a 1-0 win over Poland in a friendly match in Soweto. South Africa open the Confederations Cup a week today against Iraq. Italy, Spain, Brazil, the United States, New Zealand and Egypt complete the line-up for an event that will test South Africa's World Cup preparations.