Euro 2012 qual. - Ireland win to secure play-off spot
Republic of Ireland secured a European Championship qualifying play-off spot after a 2-1 victory over Armenia at the Aviva Stadium to finish second in Group B.
Armenia goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky was sent off for handling outside the box midway through the first half before Ireland took the lead courtesy of Valeri Aleksanyan’s own-goal.
Richard Dunne doubled the hosts’ advantage after the break before Henrikh Mkhitaryan pulled a goal back for Armenia, but Ireland held their nerve despite having Kevin Doyle sent off for a second bookable offence.
Ireland went into the game still mathematically able to top the group, although leaders Russia only needed a point at home to Andorra to secure automatic qualification.
But with Alan Dzagoev putting Russia ahead after five minutes en-route to a 6-0 thrashing, Ireland set about gaining the point they needed for a place in the play-offs, although Armenia knew victory would see them finish second.
Armenia went into the game as the form side having scored four goals in both their last two group fixtures against Slovakia and Macedonia and started the stronger, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s fourth minute shot drifting wide.
Ireland’s forward pair linked up well after 12 minutes, with Simon Cox holding up the ball and laying off for Doyle, who saw his shot comfortably saved by Berezovsky.
That proved to be a rare opening for Ireland, however, until the visitors were reduced to ten men when Berezovsky was adjudged to have handled outside the box to save Cox’s shot, although replays showed the ball hit the Armenia keeper’s chest.
Ireland were cruelly defeated by a Thierry Henry handball in their 2010 World Cup qualifying play-off against France and there was no shortage of irony that the tables had turned this time out, particularly considering Cox handled to bring the ball under control.
But Ireland initially failed to press home the advantage and needed another slice of luck to go ahead.
Damien Duff delivered a low cross from the right which Doyle flicked goalwards and Aleksanyan, attempting to clear, poked the ball into his own net.
Armenia were quick out of the blocks in the second half, with Marcos Pizelli feeding Yura Movsisyan, whose shot on the turn was saved by Given.
Cox then saw his toe-poke stopped, before Andrews’ low shot whistled past the post as Ireland seized the initiative.
And Giovanni Trapattoni’s side went two up when Dunne bundled home after Armenia’s substitute keeper Arsen Petrosyan failed to deal with Aiden McGeady’s cross.
Ireland started the game having kept eight consecutive clean sheets but that record was spoiled just three minutes later when Mkhitaryan beat Shay Given with a low cross from the edge of the box.
And the visitors, needing a further two goals to finish second in the group, were given further hope nine minutes from time when Doyle was sent off, first being booked for a clumsy challenge and following up by leading with his elbow in an aerial challenge.
However Armenia, out on their feet after playing much of the game with 10 men, were unable to muster a late challenge, leaving Ireland pleased to progress but faced with the prospect of going into the play-offs without the suspended Doyle and injured Robbie Keane.