Ireland made a flying start to their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with a gritty 1-0 win in their Group B opener against Armenia here on Friday.
Birmingham City midfielder Keith Fahey grabbed the decisive goal – his first in a senior international – in Ireland’s first competitive fixture since France striker Thierry Henry’s infamous handball in the World Cup play-off.
Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni, who made the long trip to Yerevan despite recently leaving hospital after undergoing a stomach operation, said he was pleased with the result.
“It was a difficult match that could have ended with another result – a draw,” he said.
“It was very important for us to win this match and I think that our group’s other favourites Russia and Slovakia can not be sure that they can clinch an easy win here in Yerevan.”
Both teams, in their first ever meeting, set to work to claim the initiative right from kick off, trading threats in an attempt to expose each other’s defensive frailties.
Ireland were the first to create a clear opportunity when in the eighth minute Spurs forward Robbie Keane missed the target with a 12-metre shot after Kevin Doyle fed him with a header.
The hosts replied with long-range shots by Karlen Mkrtchan and Levon Pachajan six minutes later but Ireland keeper Shay Given was in command of his net stopping the ball on both occasions.
The visitors upped the tempo and began peppering Roman Berezovsky’s goal but to no immediate avail as the keeper denied both Sean Ledger and Glenn Whelan’s attempts.
In the 35th minute Keane sent the ball into the net but his effort was disallowed because of an offside.
Shortly after the interval Armenia created a series of threats but Ireland responded with another Keane breakaway attempt in the 63rd minute but he could only hit the woodwork with a close-range unopposed shot.
In the 77th minute Fahey, a second half substitute in place of Aiden McGeady, finally broke the deadlock with a shot from close range after the home team’s defenders failed to stop a cross into the box.
Armenia fought hard to try and find the equaliser but lacked the killer touch to leave Ireland celebrating an important three points away from home.
On later Group B action Russia are in Andorra, while Slovakia take on Macedonia in Bratislava.
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