A superb performance from the Republic of Ireland in Tallinn tonight put Giovanni Trapattioni’s team on the brink of qualifying for Euro 2012.
The Irish crushed Estonia, who finished with nine men, 4-0 and barring a stupendous turnaround in midweek at the Aviva Stadium they will reach their first major championship finals since 2002. Keith Andrews steadied any lingering Irish nerves with an early strike and the visitors were clinical in the second half as the Estonians tired. Goals from Jon Walters and a late brace from Robbie Keane completed the rout.
Trapattioni’s side took the lead after 13 minutes. Walters and Keane linked beautifully to free Aiden McGeady down the left and, after the former Celtic winger had checked back inside intelligently, he delivered an inch-perfect cross for Andrews to head home. Andrei Stepanov was sent off for two yellow cards, the second of which was awarded for a desperate lunge as Keane raced clear following a defensive mistake, but initially the home side shrugged off that setback as they pressed for an equaliser early in the second period.
It took a moment of magic from Stoke striker Walters to extend Ireland’s lead. The hard working centre-forward won the ball in a dangerous area found Keane, who fed McGeady for a powerful shot that Wisla Krakow keeper Sergio Pareiko couldn’t hold. Keane reacted quickest to rebound and his deep cross was nodded over the line by Walters at the back post.
It was 3-0 in the 71st minute when Pareiko was flummoxed by Andrews’ clever free-kick and the former Leeds and Tottenham striker converted the rebound from close range. Raio Piiroja was dismissed for a second bookable offence and Keane pounced to surely put the tie beyond the Estonian side. Keane completed the rout from the spot after Ats Purje’s late lunge at Stephen Hunt gave away a penalty. The spot-kick saw Keane score his 18th goal in European Championship qualifying fixtures, leaving him just one behind the record held jointly by Hakan Suker and Jon Dahl Tomasson.
Fulham’s Stephen Kelly and Damien Duff both started the game, with the latter fortunate to avoid serious injury when he collided with one of his team-mates in the second half. The experienced winger was withdrawn with seventeen minutes to play.
ESTONIA (4-4-1-1): Pareiko; Jaager, Stepanov, Piiroja, Klavan; Dmitrijev, Vunk (Lindpere 61), Kruglov, Kink (Purje 67); Vassiljev; Ahjupera (Voskoboinikov 55). Subs (not used): Londak, Rahn, Saag, Teniste.
BOOKED: Stepanov, Ahjupera, Piiroja, Pareiko.
SENT OFF: Stepanov (34), Piiroja (76).
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-4-2): Given; Kelly, Ward, St. Ledger, Dunne; Whelan (Fahey 78), Andrews, McGeady, Duff (Hunt 73); Walters (Cox 83), Keane. Subs (not used): Westwood, McShane, O’Dea, Keogh.
GOALS: Andrews (13), Walters (67), Keane (71, pen 88).
REFEREE: Viktor Kassai (Hungary).