Robbie Keane strikes to give Ireland the edge over Macedonia

Happily for Giovanni Trapattoni and the Republic of Ireland, it was the visiting goalkeeper who 'had a Macedonia'.

Robbie Keane strikes to give Ireland the edge over Macedonia Edin Nuredinoski entered this tie largely as an unknown but he ensured that he etched his name indelibly on to the Ireland effort to qualify for the Euro 2012 finals.

Twice in the first half, he blundered horribly to present first Aiden McGeady and then Robbie Keane with goals and, try as they might to make things interesting, Trapattoni's men closed out the result. It should never have come to it, but Ireland were ultimately indebted to Keiren Westwood, the goalkeeper, who made his competitive debut. With 15 minutes to go, he blocked one-on-one from the excellent Ivan Trickovski and the home crowd exhaled in relief.

Ireland have bad memories of Macedonia from a pair of dismal results against them in the late 1990s, which spawned the phrase that equates to a nightmare performance. It was Nuredinoski who could hang his head here. He was even wearing an orange jersey, as Ireland had done in 1997.

Ireland started the day in second place in Group B and, bizarrely, they finished it in third, due to head-to-head result complexities. Their campaign, however, escaped damage and, not for the first time, Trapattoni could savour the primacy of the result, although he did profess himself to be happy with the performance.

He said that McGeady had been the game's outstanding player while he also felt vindication over his selection of Darron Gibson, Kevin Foley and Darren O'Dea; the latter pair were also competitive debutants.

"I have total reason to be happy for three reasons," Trapattoni said. "Firstly, the result; secondly, the performance of the team overall and of some players specifically and, thirdly, because I am always questioned about Gibson, Foley and O'Dea. They did well tonight."

Trapattoni's assertion that his team had "controlled the game very well" was open to question, but there was no doubt that they did so for the opening half hour. During that period, they established a two-goal lead and it might have been more had the substitute Shane Long not sliced his finish, after running the inside right channel and checking inside.

The opening goal was the stuff of dreams for Ireland, coming as it did after 84 seconds, but it looked worse for Nuredinoski with each rerun. Kevin Doyle worked the ball to the left where McGeady darted back inside to shoot low and right-footed for the near corner. The shot packed a punch, but Nuredinoski looked to have it covered. When it reared up off the patchy turf, Nuredinoski, diving to his right, could only help it into the net.

Worse was to follow for the goalkeeper. Having spilled a shot from Damien Duff only to recover ahead of the onrushing Doyle, he erred again on Gibson's 25-yard free-kick. Again, the shot was well struck, but it ought to have presented few problems. To Ireland's delight, Nuredinoski fumbled and Keane pounced for his 46th international goal. Keane was not the favourite to get there first but Nuredinoski was embarrassingly slow to get down.

"The mistakes of our goalkeeper affected the result," said the Macedonia coach, Mirsad Jonuz. "But it will be different when we play Ireland in Skopje in June. We hope to have our first-choice goalkeeper back by then."

Ireland lost Doyle to what Trapattoni said was a serious knee ligament injury, which threatens the remainder of his season, and Richard Dunne was booked for a tackle on Goran Pandev and he will be suspended for the trip to Skopje.

Pandev sparked the Macedonia revival with a through ball for Trickovski, which he finished coolly and, from a position of comfort, Ireland contrived to ensure that their supporters endured anxiety. The tackles flew in and Boban Grncarov was lucky to escape with a yellow card for a kung-fu style kick that bloodied Long about the head. Jonuz made attacking substitutions, going to two up front and his team played more inside the Ireland half. Trapattoni's men did go close through Duff, but it was Trickovski who had what his manager described as "the chance of the match." Westwood, though, made himself big and Ireland survived. One of their specialities is doing things the hard way.

Powered by article was written by David Hytner at the Aviva Stadium, for The Observer on Saturday 26th March 2011 22.09 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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