One down and one still fighting – Ireland’s Rugby World Cup dream is over but the soccer team are still fighting to make it to the European Championship play-offs.
The rugby side’s New Zealand odyssey came to a shuddering end in Wellington on Saturday when Wales scored a deserved 22-10 win over their coach Warren Gatland’s old outfit.
But Giovanni Trapattoni’s football stars now face Armenia in Dublin on Tuesday night knowing that a draw will be enough to guarantee them a play-off place – with World Cup foes France one of the sides they could meet!
The rugby team won’t be home in time for the Armenia match at the Aviva Stadium but they will receive a warm welcome after getting to the last eight in their own World Cup bid.
Ultimately Wales were just too strong across the field and too cute tactically for an Ireland side that was always fighting a rearguard action.
Shane Williams, Mike Phillips and Jonathan Davies all scored tries for the Welsh with Ireland only really threatening early in the second-half when Keith Earls scored their only try.
Out-half Ronan O’Gara kicked one penalty and one conversion on the day the dream died.
“We are very disappointed, not just for ourselves but for the thousands of fans who have followed us across New Zealand for the past four months,” said captain Brian O’Driscoll.
Trapattoni’s squad will now look to restore national pride as they chase second spot in Group B of the European qualifiers.
Russia all but guaranteed automatic qualification with a 1-0 win in Slovakia on Friday night.
That game was over before Ireland’s 2-0 victory away to Andorra when first-half goals from Kevin Doyle and Aiden McGeady secured the three points early on in an otherwise dour game.
Armenia, 4-1 winners at home to Macedonia on Friday, can snatch the play-off place from Ireland if they win in Dublin.
“That’s eight clean sheets on the bounce now which is some record – it is going to take something special to stop it,” said winger Damien Duff after the win in Andorra.
“Since the manager came in he has made us really well organised and difficult to break down and the run proves that.
“It’s going to be interesting against Armenia because they have come with a late run in this group and they have been scoring a lot of goals of late.
“Their attack is very dangerous and our defence is very strong. It’s going to be a fascinating battle.”
Like Duff, former Celtic winger Aiden McGeady believes Ireland might finally get the credit they deserve for a 1-0 win away to Armenia in their opening qualifier.
“People said that was an horrific result at the time but I think they might have changed their minds by now,” said the Spartak Moscow star, a scorer in Andorra.
“They are the form team in the group at the moment so we will have to accept that it is going to be a tough game against them on Tuesday.
“I know the draw would be enough for us to make the play-offs but we will look to win it. We want to win every game and this will be no different.”