Dubious penalty gives Irish impetus to overcome stubborn Georgians
FURIOUS Georgia left Croke Park last night feeling robbed after a controversial penalty proved the turning point in a dramatic Irish victory which keeps the World Cup dream alive.
Ireland trailed from the first minute after a Stephen Kelly howler and were struggling to find the killer touch until Finnish referee Jouni Hyytia stunned everyone present with 17 minutes remaining by punishing Georgian defender Ucha Lobjanidze for a handball that never was.
Robbie Keane converted and then grabbed a second goal five minutes later to cap a remarkable turnaround which moves Ireland joint top of Group 8 alongside Italy with a seven-point gap back to the pack.
Understandably, the Georgians were aggrieved, although Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni argued that his men deserved the victory after a spirited second half display.
"It was crazy," said visiting defender Zurab Khizanishvili, "really crazy. I couldn't believe what happened. I didn't know why the referee was whistling. It was one of the worst decisions I have ever seen in football."
His coach, Hector Cuper, was equally baffled and claimed that the distress felt by his side contributed to Keane's subsequent winner.
"I don't know if we lost the three points because of the penalty that was given against us, but we definitely lost one point.
"The team did not deserve to lose today. The penalty given again us influenced the further performance of the team because they did not know what happened.
"This Ireland team is a strong team, but today we made them suffer."
Trapattoni acknowledged it was a strange call, but stressed his opinion that the final result was meritorious.
"There are many penalties given like this. For sure it was a lucky situation for us," said the 69-year-old.
"I know these situations change things, but I think that we deserved to win. It's not easy to produce a great reaction like we did in the second half. We had the will to win."
The win means that Ireland have taken 10 points out of a possible 12, with a double-header against Bulgaria and top seeds Italy next on the agenda.