Keane brace keeps Ireland pace
Keane brace sees Ireland keep up with Group B pace
Last Updated: June 4, 2011 11:28pm
Milestone magic: Keane celebrates his landmark 50th goal for Ireland
Republic of Ireland skipper Robbie Keane notched a brace to help his country beat Macedonia and keep up with the Euro 2012 Group B qualifying pace.
The striker saw his long-range shot deflect off Nikolce Noveski to hand Ireland a seventh-minute lead - and notch his landmark 50th goal for his country.
Shay Given made a great save off Goran Pandev before John O'Shea was lucky not to concede a penalty after pulling Pandev in the box.
Keane then doubled the visitors' advantage on 36 minutes when coolly slotting home after latching on to Boban Grncarov's back pass.
O'Shea then caught Pandev in the box again and this time the referee awarded a spot-kick but Ivan Trickovski hit the penalty into the Ireland bar.
Neither side could find the net after the interval as Giovanni Trapattoni's men closed out a crucial victory.
The result sees Ireland level on points with fellow Group B pace-setters Russia and Slovakia, who won earlier in the day.
Trapattoni's side host the Slovakians at the Aviva Stadium in September and then head for Russia in matches which will have a major say in the destiny of the group.
Ireland's win was all the more creditable as it was achieved without stalwarts Richard Dunne and Damien Duff, and with Keane nursing a groin injury which at one point left a question mark hanging over his participation.
Skopje had not been a happy hunting ground for Ireland in the past, with a 3-2 defeat in 1997 and the 1-1 draw in 1999 severely denting their qualification hopes for the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 respectively.
However, their luck changed markedly inside a dramatic opening 45 minutes as Macedonia's hopes of inflicting further misery on the men in green were comprehensively undone, and largely by their own failings.
Keane, the only survivor of a costly 1-1 qualifier draw in Skopje almost 12 years ago, needed just eight minutes to become the first Irish player to complete a half-century of international goals.
The striker accepted Keith Andrews' pass and was afforded both time and space to work his way into a shooting position.
His well-struck drive might have troubled goalkeeper Martin Bogatinov anyway, but the flick it took off defender Noveski left the shot-stopper with no chance as the ball flew into the net to cue delirious celebrations on and off the pitch.
But Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given, who had earlier been targeted with a laser pen from the crowd, had to pull off a fine save from Pandev at point-blank range with 13 minutes gone, and he was back on his feet in time to deal with Popov's follow-up when it arrived at pace.
Simon Cox thought he had increased Ireland's lead two minutes later, only to have his strike harshly ruled out for offside and be booked for playing on after the whistle amid a cauldron of noise into the bargain.
The Republic's luck then held when a stumbling O'Shea brought Pandev down inside the box with the striker looking to have got beyond him, and German referee Florian Meyer waved play on.
There was an anxious moment for Trapattoni when central defender Darren O'Dea landed awkwardly as he, Given and substitute Ferhan Hasani challenged for a high ball, but O'Dea's pain was eased markedly nine minutes before the break.
Central defender Grncharov completely miskicked as he attempted to turn Noveski's pass back to his goalkeeper, and the ever-aware Keane raced in to slide a shot into the bottom corner.
But the Macedonians were handed a golden opportunity to drag themselves back into the game when Meyer awarded a penalty for O'Shea's crude challenge on Pandev, but Trickovski let Ireland off the hook.
The atmosphere inside the stadium had changed markedly, and the chants of the small band of travelling fans were clearly audible, with their Macedonian counterparts having earlier voiced their displeasure at the break.
The home crowd's mood was not improved 11 minutes into the second half when Pandev's close-range strike was chalked off for handball as he controlled Popov's deep cross at the far post before stabbing a shot past Given.
The Ireland goalkeeper had to be at his best to turn away substitute Mario Durovski's curling 68th-minute effort as it arced towards his top corner, with the home side making a final desperate push.
But for all their possession, they were unable to unduly trouble Given who was well protected by the men in front of him to see the Republic across the finishing line to notch an important away win.
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European Championship Qualifying
Sat 4th Jun - Group B
Russia3 - 1Armenia
Slovakia1 - 0Andorra
Macedonia0 - 2Rep Ireland
Sat 4th Jun - Group G
England2 - 2Switzerland
Montenegro1 - 1Bulgaria
Sat 4th Jun - Group F
Latvia1 - 2Israel
Greece3 - 1Malta
Sat 4th Jun - Group H
Iceland0 - 2Denmark
Portugal1 - 0Norway
European Championship Qualifying Group A
European Championship Qualifying Group B
|2||Republic of Ireland||10||21|
European Championship Qualifying Group C
European Championship Qualifying Group D
European Championship Qualifying Group E
European Championship Qualifying Group F
European Championship Qualifying Group G
European Championship Qualifying Group H
European Championship Qualifying Group I