Keane lifts Irish into contention

DUBLIN, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - Ireland moved joint top of Euro 2012 qualifying group Group B after a hard fought 2-1 victory over Macedonia in Dublin on Saturday.

Following Russia's scoreless draw in Armenia on Saturday afternoon, and Slovakia's 1-0 victory in Andorra, the Irish win put the trio level on ten points.

Ireland will be happy that they've pulled back some ground on Dick Advocaat's Russians, but the manner of this victory was not as convincing as they would have liked.

Ireland's Robbie Keane reacts after a near goal against Macedonia on March 26, 2011. AFP

Two goals up inside 21 minutes, the hosts became complacent and Ivan Trichovski's goal just before the break ensured a tense second half.

It should not have been that way, as Ireland raced into an early lead - with Aiden McGeady scoring his first ever international goal after just 85 seconds.

The Spartak Moscow winger has been in fine form at club level and following good work from Kevin Doyle - later substituted through injury just 16 minutes in, McGeady stepped inside his defender and beat the hapless Edin Nuredinoski with a well struck effort.

Despite Doyle's departure, Ireland continued to dominate and Shane Long, Doyle's replacement, won a free kick in front of the Macedonia goal.

Darron Gibson struck the free, and once more Nuredinoski was at fault, spilling the ball into the alert Robbie Keane's path - and the skipper prodded home his 46th international goal.

In between the two strikes, as Ireland were waiting to introduce substitute Long, their coach Giovanni Trapattoni walked on to the pitch gesturing at the referee and manhandled a linesman - yet somehow remained in the dugout.

There was to be more frustration for the Italian, however, as Trichovski finished off a fine pas from Goran Pandev, turning Richard Dunne inside out and sliding the ball calmly under the onrushing Keiren Westwood.

Chances were few and far between in the second half, as Macedonia countered well, Pandev's volley from the penalty spot the closest for the visitors.

Duff pushed a good effort just wide, before an equally noteworthy moment saw Richard Dunne foul Pandev and receive a yellow card that rules him out of the return clash in June.

Wigan midielder James McCarthy was an 87th minute inclusion - bringing an end to an international tug of war between Ireland and Scotland over the Glasgow born player.

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