Ireland on the rise as Trap's charges make world's top 20
IRELAND have moved into the top 20 of the world rankings for the first time in six and a half years.
Giovanni Trapattoni's side have jumped up three places from 23rd to 20th in the latest standings, which were published yesterday.
Ireland were in 14th spot under Brian Kerr's stewardship in August 2005 but slipped as low as No 51 under Steve Staunton at the beginning of March 2007.
England are unchanged at fifth, Wales are 42nd, Scotland 48th, and Northern Ireland 86th.
Ireland's three Euro 2012 opponents remain in the top 10. World and European champions Spain stay at the top of the tree; Italy have moved above Croatia, with the Azzurri in eighth and Slaven Bilic's charges in ninth spot.
Meanwhile, Keith Andrews has targeted a long-term future at West Brom. The Dubliner scored in Sunday's 5-1 thrashing of Wolves, where he started his career.
He signed a six-month deal after leaving Blackburn and hopes to impress Roy Hodgson enough to secure a stay beyond that.
"I would certainly be open to a longer deal," said Andrews. "I was delighted just to get on and make my debut. To score, and to win by that margin, was 'Roy of the Rovers' stuff. It was a dream come true.
"I wasn't reluctant to celebrate. A few people have said to me since then that Robbie Keane didn't celebrate when he scored against Wolves for Villa.
"Well Robbie Keane didn't get booed every time he touched the ball or get pelted when he warmed up, so it's swings and roundabouts."
THERE was no licensing drama yesterday as the only two sides who failed to meet the FAI criteria for the 2012 League of Ireland campaign were clubs that were only going to be involved this season if another competitor dropped out.
Cobh Ramblers and Tralee Dynamos had applied to join the First Division. But the FAI had already decided to limit the division to just eight sides, meaning that Cobh or Tralee would only have made it in anyway if another side fell short in the process.
However, the other teams all passed the test, with Longford, Waterford and Athlone actually ticking all the boxes for a Premier Division licence.
There had been speculation that one Premier club was in difficulty, but all 12 have cleared the final hurdle ahead of the season's start on March 2.
In YESTERDAY'S early Champions League clash, two goals from Roman Shirokov, the second with just two minutes left, helped Zenit St Petersburg to a 3-2 win over Benfica in the first leg of the round of 16 in Baltic Russia last night.
Oscar Cardozo had taken advantage of a mishap from debutant 'keeper Yuri Zhenov to bring Benfica level at 2-2 just seconds earlier, only for Shirokov to round Artur and give the Russian side a lead to take to Portugal.