16 November, 2011

Nostalgia combined with thoughts of the future as Ireland secure Euro spot for second time in history:

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The Ireland side that secured first qualification in 10 years
    Ireland manager Giovanni Trapatonni has promised to keep his promise and climb Croagh Patrick as Ireland secured passage to Poland and Ukraine with a tepid 1-1 draw against Estonia at a rocking Lansdowne Road.           
               Memories of Ireland's only other appearance at a European Championship (1988) were everywhere to be seen as "the man who put the ball in the English net";  Ray Houghton and John Aldridge were commentating on the game and highlights of Euro '88 replyed on the big screen at AVIVA Stadium.  Captain of that famous side; Mick McCarthy along with Packie Bonner and Kevin Moran were also seen reminiscing on old times.
Legends of '88: Bonner, McCarthy and Moran reminisce
            Truth is that Tuesday night's game was no more than a formality as Ireland never got out of second gear.  Stephen Ward gave Ireland the lead just after the half hour and the Boys in Green had made most of the early running with Robbie Keane in particular spurning two gilt-edged opportunities to add to his 53 goal international haul. The second half was a different story however and Estonia deservedly equalised early doors with a speculative effort from 30 yards from captain Vasilijev squirming past goalkeeper Shay Given.

Stephen Ward (left) gets the party started....
               If either side was going to win the game, it looked likely to be Estonia at this stage as Given was kept busy in the closing 20 minutes, making three solid saves.  Estonia were never going to come close to overturning Ireland's 4-0 lead from the first leg though and the final whistle was greeted with understated celebration as a party which had ben expected for four days got underway.
             The next date to mark in the calender is December 2nd which is when the draw for the Euro Group stages will be made.  For Ireland now the possibilities are, if not endless, then plentiful.  Results elsewhere have left the Boys in Green as fourth seeds which means no possibility of avenging the World Cup heartbreak suffered at the hands of France (because Les Bleus are in the same pot).  Ireland could end up in a Group as difficult as Spain, Germany and Portugal or as "easy" as Ukraine, England and Croatia. 

...while current stars Richard Dunne & Robbie Keane celebrate qualifying
              In the meantime; piggybanks and credit unions will be emptied, though Ukraine (and in particular) Poland won't be as difficult to get to - or as financially challenging as recent major championship locations.  Tickets will start at just €30; rising to some €600 for the Final.
...with legends of '88 Houghton (left) & Aldridge ecstatic
               Whilst Ireland's manager has been much (and often rightly) maligned during his tenure as Head Coach; after achieving the result which secured Ireland's qualification for a first major tournament in a decade; a thronged press room was united in applause for the Milanese native. 

HAPPY CAMP: Manager in thronged press room post match
                The final word was to be left to Il Gaffer who stated:  "Greece won the European Championships in 2004, so why can't we?"  One wonders would the rest of Europe look on such an occurance with similar disdain to what happened at the 2004 staging of international football's second greatest competition?  "Probably"  is the answer.
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