17.10.2007 at 19:30 Croke Park
Republic of Ireland
1 - 1
Referee: Mikko Vuorela (Finland)
European Cup Qualifier / Prog-match
Paul Mc Shane
Marios Elia 90+4 mins
Stephen Staunton's final game as manager
Euro 2008 Group D Qualifier
Republic of Ireland 1 Cyprus 1
The Republic of Ireland had to dig deep to salvage a result after trailing to a late Cyprus goal and Steven Finnan supplied an equaliser in stoppage time to earn a point.
This penultimate Euro 2008 qualifier was seen by the Irish players and management as the opportunity to build upon Saturday’s promising goalless draw against Group D leaders but that prediction didn’t come to fruition.
In fact, it was hardly a shock when Cyprus hit the front ten minutes from time. Ireland’s tendency to waste possession with an alarming degree of regularity always afforded the visitors space and time to counter-attack and they exploited that trend after 80 minutes with dire consequences for the Irish.
Konastantinos Makridis broke down the right channel with a raiding run before telegraphing a pinpoint delivery into the penalty box where Stelio Okkarides rose unchallenged to head past Shay Given from six yards.
Ireland clicked into gear following the concession of that opener and surged forward in numbers seeking an equaliser. Robbie Keane and substitute Daryl Murphy played in the centre-forward positions for the latter stages while another sub, Aiden McGeady, as well as Kevin Doyle patrolled the wings.
The Irish forced four corners in quick succession as the clock ticked down and moments after Steve Finnan's shot deflected out for one of those flag-kicks, the Liverpool defender rescued a point with a leveller.
He drove the ball home past Cyprus goalkeeper Antonis Giorgallidi with a first-time shot from the right edge of the penalty area after a cross by Aiden McGeady from the opposite flank was cleared with a header kindly into his path.
Ireland gained a point, a fortunate one at that but their prospects of featuring in next year’s European Championship Finals had already been removed by the Czech Republic winning 3-0 away to Germany in Munich.
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Staunton approached the match knowing only victory would leave the possibility of achieving a third placed finish in the group within their own hands.
Consequently, his team selection was adventurous and attacking-minded. He made three changes to the side which started against Germany on Saturday evening. Paul McShane and Stephen Hunt were both suspended for that clash and were restored to the side.
John O'Shea overcame a dead leg injury to line up in central-defence alongside his former Manchester United colleague McShane.
Irish fans were also glad to see that ‘man of the match’ from Saturday, Andy Reid, had passed a fitness test on his ankle problem and took his place in midfield.
In two positional changes from the Germany clash, Joey O'Brien moved from centre-back into midfield in place of the suspended Lee Carsley while Kevin Kilbane was also redeployed to left-back instead of his previous midfield role.
The Republic appeared to struggle in maintaining a consistent tempo to their game to cause the Cypriots trouble.
Keogh and Hunt are both known for their pace and trickery but were often disconnected from the play and the strikers were short of service.
Robbie Keane was presented with Ireland’s clearest opening to break the deadlock early in the second half but similar to Saturday, was left to rue poor finishing.
The Spurs man also appeared poised to give Ireland the lead when, after 29 minutes, he connected with Finnan’s curling cross from the right. Keane lunged at the ball ahead of Kevin Doyle, getting a decent connection with his head, yet it was handled comfortably by Cyprus goalkeeper Antonis Giorgallidi..
Cyprus should have gone ahead soon after when striker Yiasoumis Yiasoumi spurned two good chances in the space of a minute. Firstly, he sprung the offside trap but Given stooped low to stop his shot with his legs and moments later, the forward beat McShane to a right-wing cross only to see his header sail marginally wide of the left-hand post.
Ireland didn’t heed that warning and came closer to going behind four minutes after the restart. Okkas beat McShane for pace and broke free on goal through the centre. The Cyprus captain flicked the ball past the advancing Given from the edge of the box and tit clipped the outside of the post.
McShane and Given knew they were lucky to be still on terms.
Liam Miller had replaced Joey O’Brien in midfield at half-time as Stephen Staunton attempted to inject some zest in an engine-room which wasn’t functioning with the necessary fluency.
Andy Reid weaved his magic six minutes later by carving a chance out of nothing. He jinked his way past his marker on the left side of the penalty area and dug out a cross with his right foot that Stephen Hunt glanced agonisingly wide of the post with a deft header.
Cyprus knew a point would keep them on course to pip Ireland for third place in the group and they were satisfied to rely on hitting the Irish on the break when they could.
A gaping hole in the Irish defence was exposed ten minutes from time when Okkarides ghosted into the danger zone to plant his header past Given and Ireland could have no complaints about the plight they faced.
If Staunton was expecting a reaction from his players, he certainly got it. Ireland camped in the Cyprus half as time escaped them and Finnan eventually came up trumps, slamming that late, late equaliser, only the second from the full-back in seven years of International football.
Republic of Ireland: Given, Finnan, Kilbane, McShane, O’Shea, J. O’Brien (Miller 46), Reid, Keogh (McGeady 63), Doyle, Keane (c), Hunt (Murphy 74).
Subs not used: Colgan, Potter, Kelly and Douglas.
Cyprus: Giorgallidi, Satsias (Maragkos 70), Okkarides, Christou, Charalmides, Illia, Garpozis, Makridis (Theofilou 86), Nikolaou, Okkas (c), Yiasoumi (Michail 73).
Subs not used: Morphis, Charlaambous, Lambrou, Theodotou.
Referee: Mikko Vuorela (Finland), Assistants: Lassi Lahti and Esa Vehvilainen (both Finland).
Steve Staunton vowed to resist renewed calls for him to quit after the Republic of Ireland's Euro 2008 qualifying campaign petered out in an embarrassing Croke Park draw with Cyprus.
Only Steve Finnan's injury-time equaliser rescued the Republic from one of the most humiliating home defeats in their history, and Staunton was blunt in his appraisal of his side's performance.
'It is just not good enough,' admitted Staunton, and that is also a charge being made against his reign.
But with two years left on his four-year contract, Staunton has promised to fight on.
He said: 'I've been given the job and I'm going to see it through. It wasn't good enough in the first half. It got a little bit better in the second half but even in the second half it wasn't good enough.'