Ireland qualified for their
first major championship in a decade after following their 4-0
Euro 2012 play-off win in Estonia with a 1-1 second-leg draw in
front of a giddy home crowd on Tuesday.
The Irish have suffered a series of play-off defeats since
making their major tournament bow in 1988 with their only
European Championships appearance, most painfully when Thierry
Henry's infamous handball ended their World Cup dreams two years
Friday's thumping victory in Tallinn made sure that run came
to an end and neither Estonia stand-in captain Konstantin
Vassiljev's second-half equaliser on Tuesday nor a generally
flat Irish performance could spoil the celebrations in Dublin.
"I am very proud for many reasons... I am very happy for
the players, for you and for all the people, all the
supporters," coach Giovanni Trapattoni told a news conference.
"We can go into the tournament with confidence... I think
never say never. In football there is no favourite."
Ireland, who have turned into a dogged and defensively sound
outfit under the Italian, edged out Slovakia and Armenia in a
tough qualification group to set up the make or break tie with
Although their plane tickets to Poland and Ukraine next June
seemed all but assured prior to kick-off, Stephen Ward made
Ireland's passage even more secure when he opened the scoring
after 31 minutes.
Ward, almost ever present at left-back since scoring on his
debut against Northern Ireland in May, struck from close range
after a header by Wolverhampton Wanderers team-mate Kevin Doyle
was parried into his path.
Estonia looked like a team who knew their chances of
reaching a first major finals were over before they had set foot
in Dublin but interrupted the party just before the hour when
Vassiljev, who had shown glimpses of the form that made
Estonia shock play-off combatants before their capitulation last
week, had Shay Given to thank after the usually reliable goalkeeper
let a long-range effort squeeze under his body.
Estonia, missing first choice centre-backs Andrei Stepanov
and skipper Raio Piiroja after they were sent off in the first
leg, came closest to sneaking a winner when Given stopped a
stinging Tarmo Kink strike.
However, a packed Aviva Stadium - full for a football international for the first time since opening last year -
could not have cared less when the final whistle sounded and
fans celebrated qualification 10 years to the day after beating
Iran to reach the 2002 World Cup.
Trapattoni, who said it was best he did not join the team
for a deserved beer after the game, told the supporters they
should not be afraid to dream big when they arrive in Kiev or
Warsaw next year.
"With this new group [of players], why not?", he replied
when asked if Ireland could achieve what fellow underdogs Greece
did in 2004 by winning the European Championships.
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