Cyprus 1 - 2 Republic of Ireland
The importance of Ireland's win over Cyprus in Nicosia was emphasised by the victories of Italy and Bulgaria on the same night. Now the automatic qualifying place for the World Cup finals in South Africa and the runners-up, play-off spot, rest between the three.
Bulgaria travel to play Italy in Turin on Wednesday and this is a match Ireland will watch with keen anticipation. Manager Giovanni Trapattoni said in Nicosia that he will be hoping that match will finish in a draw.377201
The contest in Group Eight of the World Cup qualifying tournament is as tight as the skin on a drum. Italy lead with 17 points from seven matches, Ireland are second with 16 from eight and Bulgaria are third with eleven from seven.
Ireland have two matches to play - home to Italy and then Montenegro. Italy finish with matches against Bulgaria, away to Ireland, home to Cyprus. Bulgaria play away to Italy, away to Cyprus and home to Georgia.
This must be said immediately - Trapattoni has done a remarkable job with a squad who had not threatened to reach the finals of a major championship since the World Cup of 2002. With just two matches to play their destiny is in their own hands - two wins would guarantee, at least, the play-off spot.
It needs also to be stressed that Ireland have achieved nothing yet. They could be pushed down to third position and out of the competition if they do not pick up more points.
It is a fascinating position and, inevitably, a tense one for Ireland. And a charitable view of this latest performance would suggest that the importance of the points at stake, the cataclysmic consequences of a negative result impinged upon their approach to the match.
This can only be speculation, of course, but the evidence of our eyes suggested that Ireland were mindful of past disappointments in this stadium and fearful of a recurrence. The belief that a mistake might lead to the loss of qualification hopes was surely a substantial compromising factor.
How else to make sense of Ireland's uncharacteristic long-ball tactics ? How else to explain the fact that wingers Damien Duff and Stephen Hunt, and later Aiden McGeady, received no service ? How else to rationalise the fact that Kevin Doyle and Robbie Keane had to run miles seeking possession of balls played over their heads ?
It surely cannot have been a planned tactic to not place a premium on retaining possession. Yet Ireland seldom put an effective passing movement together - the build-up to their critical, clinching second goal one of few exceptions.
"We made hard work of it" said Robbie Keane who scored his 40th international goal and maintained an extraordinary run that has now seen him score six goals in Ireland's last seven World Cup ties.
"We scored a goal early but needed a second to secure the points but we did not get that until after they equalised with a good strike.
"It is easy to say we should have gone on after our early goal but you have to give Cyprus credit, they are a decent side. We got the three points and that is what we came here for and that is the most important thing."
Giovanni Trapattoni will travel to see Italy play hosts to Bulgaria on Wednesday next in Turin. He said; "It was very, very important for us to defeat Cyprus. Italy and Bulgaria both won tonight and it was important for us to retain our position in the table.
"We began the game very well but after 20 minutes we lost midfield and we conceded a goal as a result. I think we were a little bit nervous, a little bit afraid of the consequence if we lost. In the second half we played better and deserved to win."
Ireland's opening goal came came in the sixth minute and was down to Kevin Doyle's lightning reactions. A corner from Hunt was headed across goal by Richard Dunne and in the ensuing scramble, Keith Andrews got a touch and Doyle swept the ball home from ten yards.
Cyprus equalised after 30 minutes. Aloneftis, a source of trouble to Ireland all night on the left flank, crossed, the ball broke off Okkas and Dunne moved smartly to knock it away from Aloneftis. But it fell to Avraam whose shot forced Shay Given to an excellent save only for Ilia to hammer home a superb shot off the rebound.
Glenn Whelan forced goalkeeper Avgousti to a magnificent reaction save when he hit a fierce volley from 18 yards following good work by Keane and Duff. And the winner came from a similar move in the 83rd minute when Whelan set up Duff for a marvellous cross from the right that was beautifully headed home by Keane.
Republic of Ireland: Shay Given; John O'Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St. Ledger, Kevin Kilbane; Stephen Hunt (Aiden McGeady 67), Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan, Damien Duff; Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle (Caleb Folan 75).
Cyprus: Avgousti; Ilia, Christou, Charalambous, Avraam; Charalambides, Satsias, Michail (Alexandra 72), Nikolau, Aloneftis; Okkas (Christofe 90 +).