Robbie Keane struck twice
as Ireland took a giant step towards Euro 2012 on Friday by
winning 4-0 in Estonia in their qualifying play-off first leg.
The visitors had already gone ahead with a 13th-minute
header from Keith Andrews when their cause was further helped by
the dismissal of Estonia defender Andrei Stepanov 11 minutes
before the break.
Ireland made their man advantage count midway through the
second half when Jon Walters headed in a second, four minutes
before Keane's 71st minute strike put them firmly in control
before Tuesday's second leg in Dublin.
Estonia's fading dream of reaching the finals of a major
tournament for the first time was dealt another blow with
captain Raio Piiroja's 77th minute dismissal and more
indiscipline gave Ireland a late penalty which Keane converted.
"We came here to get a result but I don't think anyone would
have thought it would be the result that it was," Keane told Sky
Sports. "Full credit to the players, what a great performance."
Ireland's game plan was as simple as it was effective - an
onslaught of high balls to Jon Walters up front, with Aiden
McGeady, Keane and Damien Duff trying to pick up the breaking
McGeady, enjoying one of his better nights in an Irish
shirt, crossed into the box to set up the opener for Andrews.
Estonia had their moments, with Konstantin Vassiljev
threatening the Irish goal on several occasions with powerful
shots from distance but their task was made hard by the sending
off of Stepanov.
The centre-back had been booked early on for a challenge on
McGeady before he up-ended Keane when the Irish captain was
about to go clean through on goal.
Walters got the goal his performance richly deserved,
nodding home Keane's cross to double the Irish advantage in the
Soon afterwards Estonian goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko stretched
out a foot to block Andrews' free-kick but Keane was on hand to
slot home the rebound.
Estonia then lost another player as Piiroja was sent off
after first being shown a yellow card for hacking down Keane
before appearing to protest a handball decision that was given
Ireland's record international goal-scorer Keane then scored
his 53rd goal for his country when he fired in an 88th-minute
penalty, given when substitute Stephen Hunt was hauled down, to
make next week's return leg look academic.
Asked if the tie was effectively over, Keane replied: "It
should be, the way we have performed here.
"Obviously we can't take anything for granted but if we
don't qualify now we'll be devastated."
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