The Republic of Ireland's hopes of reaching the Euro 2008 finals are effectively over after they crashed to a 1-0 defeat to the Czech Republic.
Marek Jankulovski's first-half winner has given the second placed Czechs an almost unassailable Group D advantage over Ireland.
Reeling from the sending-off of substitute Stephen Hunt after 60 minutes for a lunge on Jan Polak, Steve Staunton's men battled bravely in search of an equaliser but were ultimately fortunate to go down by such a narrow deficit.
Jankulovski scored the only goal of the game on 15 minutes and marked a first period of complete dominance from the Czechs spiked only by Kevin Doyle's 38th-minute rattling of the woodwork.
Hunt gave the Republic the momentum to at least make a game of it after his introduction seven minutes the before break, but his straight red card ended the Irish challenge.
Milan Baros showed the Czech's intent from the start when he cut the Republic defence in half and burst onto the end of Jaroslav Plasil's through-ball only to be denied by a superb challenge from Paul McShane.
Tomas Rosicky then completely miskicked in the box after being fed by the lively Plasil on the left, then Libor Sionko flashed an effort across goal from the opposite flank.
However, The Czechs' inevitable opener arrived when Jankulovski played a superb one-two with Plasil before bursting past Richard Dunne and firing low past Shay Given.
The Irish belatedly fashioned a shift in momentum by accident, when John O'Shea hobbled off, forcing Staunton to bring Hunt into midfield.
However, it looked like normal service would resume when Baros screwed a long-range effort narrowly wide of the target with less than a minute of the second half gone.
But at the other end Ireland responded through an Andy Reid corner which was just too high for McShane, who directed his resulting header over Petr Cech's bar.
Jankulovski directed a 50th minute free-kick straight at Given but the Irish certainly looked more inventive in the second half's early stages.
Given, though, saved the Irish in the 58th minute, when Sionko's blocked shot rebounded to Rosicky on the edge of the box, and his rising drive was superbly parried over the bar by the keeper.
But the Republic's hopes suffered a hammer blow on the hour when Hunt lunged in to challenge Jan Polak on the half-way line and despite winning the ball was harshly shown a straight red card.
Staunton responded by introducing Shane Long in place of the ineffective Aiden McGeady.
The Republic kept pressing and almost equalised again in the 71st minute when Cech flapped at a Reid free-kick and McShane desperately stabbed the loose ball towards goal only to see it cleared and the Irish then knew it was not to be their day.
|Czech Republic||Team Statistics||Republic of Ireland|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|5||Shots on Target||1|
|5||Shots off Target||8|