Republic of Ireland 3-1 Kazakhstan: Boys in Green close campaign with a win
Republic of Ireland ended their dismal 2014 World Cup qualification campaign with a straightforward 3-1 victory over Kazakhstan at a lifeless Aviva Stadium on Tuesday evening.
Noel King's side were forced to come from behind after Dmitri Shomko had given the visitors an unexpected lead but two goals in the space of eight first-half minutes from captain Robbie Keane and John O'Shea completed the comeback before Shomko scored at the wrong end in the closing stages.
While the three qualification points are insignificant, victory could yet see the Boys in Green included among the second group of seeds for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign as they attempt to bounce back from their failure to make next summer's World Cup finals in Brazil.
Keane, the Republic’s record goalscorer, was included in the starting line-up as one of four changes to the side that were beaten by Germany on Friday evening. Richard Dunne and Sunderland centre-back O’Shea were also handed recalls while Andy Reid - who was discarded by Giovanni Trapattoni back in 2008 - lined out in a green shirt for the first time in five years.
The Nottingham Forest midfielder wasted little time in stamping his authority on proceedings as he pulled the strings in the opening minutes on front of a mere 21,700 in Dublin.
Nonetheless, it was the side ranked 132nd in the Fifa rankings that hit the front on 13 minutes. The hosts failed to clear the danger, moments after Baizhanov had headed narrowly over David Forde’s bar, allowing left-back Shomko to unleash an unstoppable effort into the top corner from 30 yards.
The lead didn’t last long, however, as a moment of madness from Kislitsyn handed Keane the opportunity to restore parity. The defender inexcusably handled Reid’s set-piece away from the on-rushing Dunne before the LA Galaxy front-man converted for number 61 in Irish colours.
For all the highly encouraging passing and interplay, with Reid playing the role of chief architect, the source of the second goal came from another set-piece.
Andrey Sidelnikov could only flap at Dunne’s powerful header, handing O’Shea the simple task of firing home from a couple of yards for only his second international goal and first in a decade.
While, Ireland’s centre-backs were enjoying success offensively, they were kept on their toes at the other end thanks to a couple of dangerous crosses from Shomko in particular.
With 10 minutes remaining in the first-half, Darron Gibson’s evening took a turn for the worse after a bright start under the watchful eye of his Everton manager, Roberto Martinez. The midfielder went down in agony after launching himself into a challenge before being stretched off.
It was later confirmed that the 25-year-old suffered suspected knee ligament damage, a potentially season ending injury for a player who has just returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
The pattern of the second half mirrored that of the opening 45 with Ireland enjoying large spells of possession without really penetrating Sidelnikov’s goal; Keane, Marc Wilson and Stokes all failed to test the ‘keeper after patient build-up play.
In an attempt to find an unlikely equaliser, Miroslav Beranek introduced Igor Yurin and the substitute almost made an immediate impact but dragged his effort just wide before Shomko fired high and wide from range.
The visitors’ hopes of finding a leveller to claim a memorable result were dashed by an incisive piece of play by Aiden McGeady, just moments after being sprung from the bench in place of the impressive Reid.
Stokes did brilliantly to keep the move alive before the Spartak Moscow winger drove into the box, forcing Shomko to complete his mixed evening by bundling it into his own net under pressure by Doyle and Keane.
Miroslav Beranek's men had one last chance to pull one back in the 87th minute, but Yurin's right-footed shot from the centre of the box was saved by Forde in the Irish goal.
The result ensures Ireland finish fourth in Group C on 14 points behind behind Germany, Sweden and Austria, as a line is drawn under a hugely disappointing qualification campaign.