ESTONIA - 0 REP OF IRELAND - 4
Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland have one foot in the European Championship finals after a night when it was all so easy in Estonia.
Only a major disaster in the return game at home on Tuesday night can now stop Ireland’s name going into the hat for the 2012 tournament in Poland and the Ukraine.
Trap’s insistence all week that Ireland were not favorites for the first leg of the play-offs looked meaningless by the 13th minute when Keith Andrews headed the visitors in front off an Aiden McGeady cross.
That goal was only the start of things to come as the 1400 Irish fans celebrated late into the night in Tallinn.
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By half-time, Estonia were down to 10 men when central defender Stepanov was red carded for a second bookable offence after a clumsy challenge on Robbie Keane.
By full-time, Keane (twice) and strike partner Jonathon Walters had joined Andrews on the scoresheet and Estonia were down to nine men after captain Raio Piiroja was sent-off in the 75th minute.
The game was already over at that stage and Tuesday night’s second leg in Dublin all but meaningless.
Two years after the pain of Paris, Ireland will have a European Championship finals to look forward to and a first visit to the tournament since England were beaten in Stuttgart in 1988.
It wasn’t pretty by the way. Estonia, the lowest seeded team to make the play-offs, played to their world ranking of 59th and seldom troubled Shay Given.
Ireland did what they had to do. Richard Dunne was resolute at the back, Keith Andrews was outstanding in the centre of the field and Walters more than justified his selection alongside Keane.
That both strikers scored to put the icing on the cake will have pleased manager Trapattoni, certain to be rewarded with a new contract before he brings his team to the Euros.
Captain Keane, back to full fitness after his recent injury scare, was the provider in the 66th minute as he scooped the ball back across goal for Walters to head home at the far post after Pareiko had blocked a McGeady shot.
Keane then notched the 52nd goal of his international career when ‘keeper Pareiko parried a Keith Andrews free in the 70th minute and the Galaxy star finished from close range.
The home fans lost all hope in the 87th minute when substitute Stephen Hunt was fouled and Keane scored from the penalty point.
Rep. of Ireland: Given; Kelly, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward; Duff (Hunt 73 mins, Whelan (Fahey 78mins, Andrews. McGeady, Walters (Cox 83 mins).