The Republic of Ireland reached their first major finals since the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ on Tuesday as they drew 1-1 with Estonia in their UEFA EURO 2012 play-off second leg clash to qualify 5-1 on aggregate.
The Irish - whose only previous appearance in the finals of a European Championships was in 1988 - ensured there would be no stunning comeback by their opponents when Stephen Ward scored in the 32nd minute. Estonia's Konstantin Vassiljev restored some pride to the visitors with a long range effort in the second-half that crept in under Shay Given.
Ireland's Italian manager Giovanni Trapattoni had asked for complete concentration from his side, wary that his players might be accused of disrespecting either the opposition or the record home crowd, who filled Lansdowne Road, with celebrations in mind.
The hosts responded to his prompts well, starting with their trademark energy and indeed, should have taken the lead in the fifth minute. A long punt from defence was flicked on by Kevin Doyle and Taavi Rahn's slip put Robbie Keane through on goal. But instead of shooting on sight, the LA Galaxy forward delayed and the chance was lost. But worse was to come seconds later.
Moments after he had fired a shot wide, Damien Duff was back in the thick of the action, and when Pavel Londak parried his effort the ball fell kindly to Keane inside the six yard box, yet somehow the striker dragged his effort wide.
Rahn was booked in the tenth minute for a dangerous tackle on the constantly threatening Duff, and seven minutes later Estonia were shuffling their pack again when Dmitri Kruglov went off injured, replaced by Sander Puri.
Ireland remained in control of the game but didn't threaten again until the half hour mark - when the breakthrough came from an unlikely source. Doyle connected well with Duff's corner, and while Londak got down well to save, he once again pushed the ball to an Irishman's feet, and this time Ward punished him to score his first competitive goal for Ireland.
Vladimir Voskoboinikov had Estonia's one shot in anger before the break, but Given was more than equal to it. The game appeared to be petering out as the hour arrived, but the prolific Vassiljev had other thoughts, and fired in a trademark long-range effort that Given could not stop.
Both sides pushed in vain for the decider as the final whistle approached, but now the real countdown begins as Ireland prepare for their biggest test.