Ireland survive Russian roulette
Armenia victory lifts hopes of winning group after Given and Dunne heroics
Ireland's chance of automatic qualification for Euro 2012 received a massive boost after an extraordinary sequence of results in Group B last night.
Despite being battered to no avail by Russia in the Luzhniki Stadium, an unlikely 0-0 draw for Giovanni Trapattoni's men and Armenia's incredible 4-0 win in Slovakia has thrown the permutations wide open.
Should Slovakia beat Russia next month, Ireland can qualify for Euro 2012 automatically.
But Armenia's shock win means that if both they and Ireland win their penultimate matches, Armenia will visit Dublin with the opportunity of claiming a play-off berth and potentially relegating Ireland to fourth place.
"I think St Patrick was looking down on us," said Trapattoni. "The luck of the Irish."
Ireland failed to score for the third successive game, but, of more importance, they extended their record of successive blank sheets to seven -- meaning Ireland have not conceded a goal in 679 minutes.
The Irish maintained their stubborn streak with an 11th successive competitive away match without defeat thanks to magnificent displays from Shay Given and Richard Dunne, who ended the match with a No 5 scrawled on his replacement jersey and several stitches in a facial wound.
After a result, which saw FAI chief executive John Delaney climb into the area where 700 Irish fans were congregated -- throwing his tie to them in delight -- Trapattoni hailed his star duo. "Richard was fantastic," said Trapattoni. "I thank God that we had Richard in this game. He sacrificed himself because he went back on to the pitch with four stitches. Shay Given also saved two or three goals."
Ireland are now in pole position to claim the play-off slot in Group B, but, with Slovakia still to host Russia, Ireland may still take the top spot. Two Irish wins against Andorra (away) and Armenia (home) should be enough seal a play-off spot, albeit a draw in the Slovakia-Russia clash could complicate matters.
Dunne was forced off late on to receive stitches in his face after a scything challenge on Yuri Zhirkhov that earned him a booking and a suspension for the visit to Andorra next month. He was then prevented from returning to the field of play after referee Felix Berdych erroneously insisted he display a number on his back. As the Irish backroom staff did not have one readily available, goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly was forced to draw the No 5 on Dunne's back with a felt tip pen.