Austria snatch dramatic draw in Dublin
Published 26/03/2013 | 21:56
Austria midfielder David Alaba left Ireland's World Cup qualifying hopes in tatters as he edged manager Giovanni Trapattoni closer to the exit with a dramatic late equaliser in a 2-2 draw.
Ireland were within a minute of securing a precious victory which would have propelled them into second place in Group C when the Bayern Munich man smashed an injury-time leveller past goalkeeper David Forde to snatch a point which left his side in pole position to claim the runners-up spot instead.
It was a devastating conclusion to a tight encounter for Ireland, who dragged themselves back into the game after falling behind to Martin Harnik's cool 11th-minute strike. Jon Walters levelled from the penalty spot and then headed Ireland in front at the end of the first half - and it was a lead they were to defend doggedly until the final throes.
A second draw in four days leaves Trapattoni's men knowing they face an uphill task to reach the play-offs. They were ultimately made to pay for sitting back and defending a narrow lead rather than attempting to build upon it, a failing which will provide the manager's critics with further ammunition.
Alaba had whistled a second-minute free-kick just wide of Forde's right post to serve warning of their intent and the keeper was left cruelly exposed nine minutes later as Austria took the lead. Zlatko Junuzovic caught central defender Ciaran Clark in possession and headed into the box before squaring for Harnik, whose first touch and deft finish gave Forde no chance.
Ireland's attempts to drag themselves back into the game were tame with James McClean, who had prospered early on, finding himself confronted by two men every time he received the ball.
However, the Austrians having benefited from Ireland's generosity, returned the favour when central defender Emanuel Pogatetz misread Shane Long's intentions inside the box and brought him down. Referee Marijo Strahonja pointed straight to the spot and with no Robbie Keane in the side, Walters stepped forward to smash the penalty low to keeper Heinz Lindner's right to level.
Shane Long was desperately unfortunate not to give his team a 38th-minute lead when he cheekily back-heeled McClean's cross towards goal, but saw his effort come back off the foot of the post with Lindner beaten. However, Trapattoni's men did go ahead in first-half injury time when Walters got ahead of marker Christian Fuchs to head firmly home.
The home side might have increased their lead twice within seconds after the break when Lindner managed to keep the ball out of his net after McClean's 67th-minute cross was bundled towards his own goal by one of his defenders amid a melee in front of him, with Marc Wilson heading wide from the resulting corner.
But Ireland dropped ever deeper as the game crept towards the final whistle and although they enjoyed a let-off when Harnik headed weakly at Forde with a minute of normal time remaining, the respite proved temporary. Alaba picked up possession 20 yards out and smashed an unstoppable shot high into the net to break Irish hearts.