Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for their first World Cup since 2002 suffered a huge blow after conceding late in a 2-2 draw against Austria.
It was billed as a must-win game for the home side in Dublin, but late pressure told and Giovanni Trapattoni’s side will have their work cut out to finish in second place behind runaway Group C leaders Germany.
Jonathan Walters appeared to have Ireland on track for victory with his brace but David Alaba’s late equaliser secured a point for Austria.
The draw keeps Ireland fourth in Group C with Austria and Sweden both remaining ahead of them on goal difference and Germany eight points clear after their win over Kazakhstan on Tuesday.
The visitors, coming off the back of Friday’s 6-0 hammering of the Faroe Islands, started the game brightly and went inches from taking a second-minute lead.
But Alaba’s free-kick went narrowly wide of David Forde’s upright with the goalkeeper scrambling.
Austria opened the scoring in the 11th minute as careless play from Marc Wilson and Ciaran Clark gifted the visitors the lead with Zlatko Junuzovic squaring for Martin Harnik to tap in.
Ireland had a penalty shout turned down soon after when Shane Long’s cross appeared to strike the hand of Alaba.
The hosts equalised on 25 minutes as Walters drilled a penalty low and hard past Heinz Lindner after Long was brought down by a reckless challenge from West Ham defender Emanuel Pogatetz.
Ireland forced their opponents back and Long’s efforts were so nearly rewarded but he saw his clever back-heel from seven yards rebound off the post.
But the hosts were not to be denied before the break and Glenn Whelan’s set-piece was headed home by Walters.
As the game wore on, Ireland began to sit back as the visitors came in search of an equaliser and Austria could have found themselves level but Gyorgy Garics could not direct Harnik’s cross on target.
It was a sign of things to come but Ireland could have sealed the victory with a quarter of the game to go but Linder pulled off a superb point-blank save to deny John O’Shea.
The introduction of Aston Villa forward Andreas Weimann proved to be a turning point as the Austrian’s turned the screw and Ireland began to tire.
As the match entered additional time, Austria continued to lay siege on Forde’s goal with the Millwall goalkeeper stretching to save a Harnik header after an Alaba free-kick.
And the Irish defence eventually cracked under a late onslaught as Alaba’s dipping 25-yard effort gave Forde no chance and grabbed Austria a precious point in the race for second.