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Republic of Ireland's Richard Dunne is congratulated by Robbie Keane after scoring during the World Cup Qualifying match at the Vasil Levski Stadion, Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo by: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Republic of Ireland 1 Bulgaria 1

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Republic of Ireland's Richard Dunne is congratulated by Robbie Keane after scoring during the World Cup Qualifying match at the Vasil Levski Stadion, Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo by: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Republic of Ireland held Bulgaria to a 1-1 draw at the Vasil Levski Stadium to improve their standing in Group 8.

Giovanni Trapattoni's side remain one point behind group leaders Italy and have effectively ruined Bulgaria's chances of qualifying for next summer's World Cup.

A goal from Richard Dunne gave Ireland a surprise lead in Sofia before Dimitar Telkiyski hit back for the hosts and that is how it stayed until the end.

In the build-up to the game, a lot was being made by Bulgarian media about the return of Dimitar Berbatov, but the Manchester United man never really got into the game despite displaying some nice touches.

He dropped off too deep and in turn restricted the influence that Stiliyan Petrov had, which was a good thing for Ireland considering how well Petrov did when the teams met in Dublin earlier in the year.

A lot of credit should go to Ireland, who didn't just sit back and try to grind out a result. They attacked at every opportunity with their main tactic appearing to play high balls into striker Caleb Folan.

With Damien Duff and Stephen Hunt offering width on either side, Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews working hard in midfield, and the defense holding its own for the most part - it was Ireland that looked the more comfortable in the opening exchanges.

They then took the lead on 24 minutes when Dunne got up to connect with a Stephen Hunt free-kick and convert it into the back of the net. It was a well-taken goal and the second time that the centre-back has scored against Stanimir Stoilov's team in this campaign.

Just one minute after that goal, the visitors were nearly punished when Dunne misjudged a ball and Martin Petrov fired over when he should really have hit the target.

Bulgaria didn't have to wait long to draw level as Telkiyski caught Kevin Kilbane and Sean St Ledger off guard, raced onto a long ball from Igor Tomasic, and cooly slotted the ball past keeper Shay Given on 29 minutes.

That goal allowed the hosts to grow with confidence as they put the ball into the Irish box as often as possible and even had some half chances, like a long-range effort from Radostin Kishishev.

It was 1-1 at half-time and it never really looked like another goal would come in the second period. Ilian Stoyanov blazed a shot over and Aiden McGeady shot wide, but they were the best of the chances.

Ireland will be extremely pleased with this result as they keep the pressure on Italy for the top spot, while also putting themselves in a good position to clinch a Play-Off place if they finish second.

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