Robbie Keane made a successful return to Italy as his close range-strike three minutes from time earned Republic of Ireland a 1-1 draw against 10-man Italy in a 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa qualifier™.

Former Inter Milan striker Keane's last-gasp equaliser rewarded the Irish for a gutsy performance that was rich in endeavour. Vincenzo Iaquinta's 11th-minute goal looked to have given Italy an unlikely win after they had to play virtually the entire match with a numerical disadvantage.

Republic of Ireland's Italian manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, thought that justice had been done "I think over the 90 minutes a draw is the right result because we were playing 11 against 10," he said. "During this time we had the best chances to win the game but after it went to 1-0 it was very difficult to score a goal because the Italian defenders and the Italy team are famous for being the best defenders in the world."

The draw left Italy top of Group 8 but the Republic will be feeling confident as they pegged the gap to the world champions at two points. It could have been worse for Italy as Giampaolo Pazzini, making his first start for the national team, became the quickest player to be sent off in an Italy shirt.

Having scored on his debut as a substitute in Montenegro on Saturday he quickly went from hero to villain here. Pazzini lived up to his name - it means 'crazy little one' in Italian - on four minutes when he was red-carded for catching Manchester United's John O'Shea with a flailing arm in an aerial challenge.

We were under very little threat until they scored but playing 90 minutes a man down on this pitch is tough. It was obvious we would suffer at the end of the game,

Marcello Lippi.

Italy quickly made their greater quality pay after some poor defending down the Republic's right. Andrea Pirlo pinged a ball down the inside left channel for the overlapping Lyon fullback Fabio Grosso with both Paul McShane and Andrew Keogh caught ball-watching. Grosso's centre then went through another Irish defender's legs and found Iaquinta, whose clever flick opened the scoring.

Republic of Ireland had plenty of the ball thereafter with Italy content to sit back and soak up pressure while looking to counter at pace. The Republic's Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni made an early change on 21 minutes throwing on Hull forward Caleb Folan for Keogh, with captain Robbie Keane dropping in behind the front two.

Even so, Italy came closest to scoring again as Grosso galloped free and crossed for Simone Pepe to poke the ball into the side-netting. Ireland finally showed some attacking threat on 40 minutes but Buffon was equal to Hunt's fierce strike.

Ireland toiled throughout the second half without getting close to scoring until five minutes from time when Kevin Kilbane forced Buffon into another acrobatic save. Just two minutes after that a long ball forward fell kindly to Keane in the box and the Tottenham forward buried his shot.

Marcello Lippi said: "We were under very little threat until they scored but playing 90 minutes a man down on this pitch is tough. It was obvious we would suffer at the end of the game but we conceded because of a moment of poor concentration. We've played many other times with 10 men but for 30 minutes or 10 minutes, not for 90 minutes."

Trapattoni's side threw everything at Italy in the last few minutes and almost scored again as late panic reigned in Italy's box, but with the ball bobbling around the six-yard line, no Irish foot could prod it home.