Robbie Keane kept the Republic of Ireland's dreams of automatic qualification for the World Cup alive with a last-gasp equaliser to deny 10-man Italy victory.
The Tottenham striker stabbed home an 87th-minute shot at the San Nicola
Stadium to claim a point that keeps Ireland within touching distance of the
Italians at the top of Group Eight.
It also ensured manager Giovanni Trapattoni a share of the spoils against his
home country and the man who replaced him as national boss, Marcello Lippi.
The reigning champions took an 11th-minute lead through Vincenzo Iaquinta
despite having had striker Giampaolo Pazzini sent off with only three minutes
But the Irish refused to give up and got their reward at the death as they
retained their foothold in the race to make it to South Africa next summer.
Early drama has become a feature of Ireland's recent games with Poland and
Georgia stunning the hosts at Croke Park by taking the lead within minutes of
kick-off and the Republic reversing the trend with Richard Dunne's opener only
40 seconds into Saturday's 1-1 draw with Bulgaria.
However, with Italian coaches Lippi and Trapattoni having prepared
painstakingly for an eagerly-anticipated contest, both had their plans ripped
apart before their players had broken sweat.
Kevin Kilbane, whose late own goal had handed the Bulgarians a point on
Saturday, clattered into Pazzini within a minute and was perhaps fortunate to
escape a yellow card.
The striker, making his first senior start for his country, was not quite so
lucky two minutes later when he caught John O'Shea with a flailing arm, which
drew blood and the red card from German referee Wolfgang Stark's pocket.
Replays suggested the decision had been harsh, a view certainly shared by the
home supporters, who had earlier jeered Lippi for his refusal to select
Bari-born Antonio Cassano.
But if Trapattoni sensed an opportunity, his hopes were dashed within eight
minutes as the world champions demonstrated their class in devastating style.
The mercurial Andrea Pirlo received the ball from full-back Fabio Grosso and
delivered it perfectly back into the defender's path to allow him to drill a
cross through the ineffectual Paul McShane.
Iaquinta was unmarked in the middle to dispatch the simplest of chances and any
perceived advantage for the visitors had been wrenched from their grasp.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, it was the supremely organised and
technically gifted Italians who were dominating the game and Trapattoni
uncharacteristically opted for a change with only 22 minutes gone.
The Republic boss has stuck rigidly to his favoured system since deciding that
was how best to make use of the players at his disposal.
But in withdrawing Andy Keogh, who had started wide on the right in place of
the injured Aiden McGeady, and sending on Hull striker Caleb Folan, he shuffled
Keane dropped into the hole between a three-man midfield and frontmen Folan and
Kevin Doyle, and the change at least gave them a foothold in the game.
Midfielder Keith Andrews scuffed a 31st-minute effort wide when he should have
done better and Stephen Hunt forced a fine save from Gianluigi Buffon with a
half-volley five minutes before the break.
Few in green either on the pitch or in the stands would have been too
disappointed to see Pirlo replaced by Angelo Palombo for the restart and he was
quickly followed by Darron Gibson and Andrea Dossena as the two managers sought
to out-manoeuvre each other.
Hunt, who was soon to be joined on the pitch by brother Noel as Doyle made way,
had ambitious appeals for a 56th-minute penalty waved away after he went down
under Buffon's challenge but Ireland were at least starting to make an
But it was not until an enthralling final 10 minutes or so that the home side
wavered and, when they did, Ireland finally took advantage.
Kilbane saw an 84th-minute shot deflected over as the Italians became
increasingly edgy at the back and their anxiety was to increase markedly as time
They finally cracked three minutes later when Folan made a nuisance of himself
as he pursued Given's long clearance and, when the ball broke from a scramble,
it fell to the right man in the right place.
Keane needed no second invitation to stab home the 38th goal of his senior
international career and send the travelling supporters behind Buffon's goal
It might have got even better for the Irish in the final minute of the game
when the stranded keeper could only look on imploringly as Glenn Whelan's shot
looped up off one of his defenders and dropped just wide.
Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni was a happy man after his return
to Italy was rewarded with a precious World Cup point.
Trapattoni said: "I was hoping for a draw coming here as it would put more
pressure on Italy. They are still ahead, so that's an advantage, but there are many, many games
"Yesterday, I didn't want to say anthing as I didn't want to jinx it. But we
are among 11 unbeaten teams in the qualifying. I told my players that and I thought that would give them momentum.
"We may be 26th in FIFA rankings, but we still haven't lost and that has to
give them a great drive for work.''
Trapattoni uncharacteristically decided to change the shape and make-up of his
team in an effort to find a way back into the game and they gradually increased
their tempo, aided in no small measure by Pirlo's failure to re-appear after the
The ploy ultimately worked and Trapattoni later insisted he is not averse to
change when it is required.
He said: "When I need to change the players, I will. I changed immediately at
the World Cup. I do it when necessary. I'm not afraid to change. If the team has balance, I won't change. There has
to be a reason to make changes like this.''
Trapattoni admitted Pazzini's sending off had maybe been harsh, and he was not
receiving any argument to the contrary from Lippi.
The Italy coach said: "Obviously we are very disappointed. We thought it was unfair to send off Pazzini for something that was not
violent at all.
"But we fought very hard and only conceded the goal in final stages playing on
a heavy pitch.''
Despite allowing two points to slip from their grasp, the Italians remain in
pole position to claim automatic qualification for next summer's finals.
However, Lippi acknowledged that Ireland are still their main rivals.
He said: "Yes at the moment, without a shadow of a doubt. But we have to look
at Bulgaria, who have games in hand.''