Euro 2012 qual. - Keane's double slays Macedonia

Sat, 04 Jun 22:28:00 2011

Robbie Keane scored his 50th and 51st goals for the Republic of Ireland as they beat Macedonia 2-0 in Skopje to stay right in the hunt in Group B of the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

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With Slovakia and Russia both winning earlier in the day, Ireland needed the three points to stay level on points with their two main rivals, and they did just that, although they remain third in the group due to the head-to-head tie break rule.

Keane scored both of his goals in a fiery and competitive first-half as Ireland rode their luck at times; with Macedonia denied one clear penalty before they then missed a spot-kick in the 40th minute, just four minutes after Ireland scored their second goal of the night.

However, the second-half was comfortable fare for Giovanni Trapattoni's men, as they killed off the game with a disciplined performance against a dispirited Macedonian outfit.

Keane's 51 goal haul for his country is now two greater than England's all-time top scorer Bobby Charlton and level with France's record marksman – Thierry Henry.

Ireland's campaign is now likely to live or die by a double of header of games in September when they face Slovakia in Dublin on September 2nd before travelling to Moscow four days later.

Keane gave Ireland the lead after just seven minutes when he turned and shot opportunistically from distance after receiving the ball from Glenn Whelan. He was delighted to see his strike loop into the net but it only went in after taking a huge deflection off Macedonian defender Nikolce Noveski.

Ireland started brightly but could have been pegged back level on two separate occasions only for Shay Given and then the referee to get them out of trouble.

In the 13th minute Given had to rush out and save with his legs from point blank range after Ivan Trickovski chipped a lovely ball over the defence for Goran Pandev whose low effort would have disappointed the home fans.

Then in 25th minute the hosts really should have had a penalty when O'Shea looked to pull down Pandev but to the relief of the Irish fans, German referee Florian Meyer waved the play away when he could have easily sent-off O'Shea as well as given the spot-kick.

Ireland themselves did not get the benefit of the doubt with a borderline decision when Simon Cox was booked for smashing the ball into the net after being flagged offside. The West Brom striker claimed he didn't hear the whistle, and replays suggested he might have even been onside too.

In the 36th minute Keane gave Ireland some breathing space as a cool finish saw him score his second of the game and his astonishing 51st for Ireland, but the goal came gift-wrapped with a bow on it from the Macedonia defence.

Goran Popov and Noveski dilly-dallied in possession, with the latter man then making a complete mess of a back-pass which sent the Tottenham striker clean-through and he made no mistake with a clinical finish into the corner.

Macedonia nearly got straight back into it though when they were finally awarded a penalty as O'Shea again was guilty of a foul on Pandev as he kicked the Internazionale striker instead of the ball.

However, again Macedonia were their own worst enemies as Trickovski smashed the penalty against the bar despite sending Given the wrong way.

The home fans, who started the match with an intimidating, cacophony of shrilling noise were muted throughout the second-half as the hosts found no way back into the match.

Given was tested only once, but did well to tip over a curling drive from Mario Gjurovski in the 69th minute, while Pandev also had the ball in the net once but he clearly handled the ball in the build-up, and thankfully for Ireland the officials didn't have a "Thierry Henry-style" moment and correctly chalked it off.

All-in-all it was a satisfying night's work for the Irish, and the prolific Keane will be hoping to carry his red-hot international form into September's blockbuster double-header when Ireland's qualification destiny will surely be decided.

Seán Fay / Eurosport

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