World Cup - Ireland unbeaten after draw

Wed, 14 Oct 21:25:00 2009

Republic of Ireland finished their World Cup Group 8 qualification campaign unbeaten but it ended in disappointing fashion as they were held 0-0 by Montenegro at Croke Park.

Ireland's Stephen Hunt (L) tackles Montenegro's Elsad Zverotic during the 2010 World Cup qualifying match at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin - 0

With a play-off place already secured, Ireland looked exceptionally flat throughout and managed just one shot on target in the match.

Richard Dunne hit the crossbar in the first-half but Montenegro should have had a penalty in the second when Paul McShane blocked a Simon Vukcevic shot with his hand.

There are also set to be renewed calls for Andy Reid's recall to the Irish set-up, not just because of a lack of creativity in midfield, but also because Martin Rowlands was forced off just before half-time with what looked to be a serious knee injury.

Glenn Whelan will come back from suspension for the play-offs but Rowlands's injury limits Giovanni Trapattoni's back-up options in the middle of the park further.

When the dust settles on this match, the only significance it will take in the annuals of Irish footballing history will be the fact that it was the contest where Shay Given and Kevin Kilbane earned their 100th caps.

Given was made captain for the night, while Trapattoni also gave starts to fringe players like Rowlands, Liam Miller and Noel Hunt as Keith Andrews and Aiden McGeady were left out of the squad as a booking would have seen them suspended for the first-leg of the play-offs.

Despite making six changes from the Italy game at the weekend, Ireland started the game brightly and McShane should have done better from a Damien Duff corner in the seventh minute but he headed over the bar.

Duff then scuffed another good chance into the side netting in the 27th minute but arguably the best chance of the match fell to Montenegro on the half hour mark when Branko Boskovic put a free header wide after being found by Milan Jovanovic.

Just before the break Dunne got up highest to head a Stephen Hunt free goalbound but he cruelly saw it go off the underside of the bar - and Duff and Robbie Keane also had half-chances in quick succession before half-time.

Ireland were poor in the first half but awful in the second and it was not until the hour mark when they had their first - and only - shot on target. Good work from Miller and Noel Hunt put Keane away but his effort from a tough angle was well saved by Vukasin Radomir Poleksic.

A very negative Montenegro team were not much better but in the 66th minute Sporting Lisbon man Vukcevic did show good skill to take down a ball in the box before checking inside for a shot. Both Given and McShane dived for the ball with replays showing it was clearly stopped by McShane's hand.

The referee waved play on but McShane can count himself very lucky because he might well have been sent-off if the incident had been seen clearly.

The last 20 minutes of the match laboured on without incident and Ireland will have to produce far better if they are to have any chance in the play-offs.

The draw for those two-legged deciders takes place in Zurich on Monday and the unseeded Irish will play France, Russia, Greece or Portugal for a place in South Africa.

Italy 3-2 Cyprus

Alberto Gilardino scored a hat-trick to steer champions Italy to a stunning 3-2 comeback victory over Cyprus in Parma.

The Fiorentina forward glanced in a Mauro Camoranesi cross in the 78th minute, tapped in from close range three minutes later and then got the last touch to a deflected Fabio Quagliarella shot in injury time.

The Cypriots had looked on course for a memorable win after going 2-0 up with Ioannis Okkas's 12th-minute strike and Chrysostomos Michail's volley just after the break.

The hat-trick capped a memorable few days for Gilardino, who also scored the goal that earned Italy a 2-2 draw in Ireland on Saturday to book their tickets to South Africa 2010 as group winners.

Bulgaria 6-2 Georgia

A first-half hat-trick from striker Dimitar Berbatov helped Bulgaria end their qualifying campaign with an emphatic 6-2 win over 10-man Georgia in Sofia.

Bulgaria's chances of reaching next year's finals vanished on Saturday when they lost 4-1 to Cyprus but Georgia scarcely had a shot on goal as the hosts tore into them from the start.

Manchester United's Berbatov completed his hat-trick within 29 minutes to take his Bulgaria tally to 46, just one goal short of Hristo Bonev's national record.

Martin Petrov scored twice and gritty midfielder Stanislav Angelov added another, his second international goal.

Bulgaria's triumph, seen by one of the smallest-ever crowd at the Vasil Levski national stadium, was helped by errors from Georgia keeper Giorgi Lomaia.

Georgia finished the match with 10 men after Levan Khmaladze was sent off 13 minutes into the second half.

Seán Fay / Reuters

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