Caleb Folan believes the Republic of Ireland laid down a World Cup marker as they put a dent in Italy’s charge towards automatic qualification.
The 26-year-old Hull striker came off the bench to play a central role in the Robbie Keane equaliser which stunned the home fans at Bari’s San Nicola Stadium and handed the Republic a priceless point.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s side looked to be heading for a second successive disappointment after Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with Bulgaria when Folan helped on Shay Given’s long clearance and Keane applied the finishing touch.
The visitors might even have snatched victory in a rousing finish against Italy’s 10 men, but Folan believes they stated their case eloquently enough anyway.
He said: “There is no bigger than the world champions and we knew it would be a battle out there.
“But we want to finish as high as possible. We got something here, and we go on from there.
“This is a tough group, but we have come to the world champions and got a result – and we could maybe have won the game.
“That shows how good we are.”
Folan, who is currently struggling to force his way into the Hull side, was introduced as a 22nd-minute substitute with Ireland making little headway in their attempt to claw their way back from Vincenzo Iaquinta’s 11th-minute opener following Giampaolo Pazzini’s dismissal.
But he, along with fellow replacements Darron Gibson and Noel Hunt, made an impact as the Italians tired.
Folan said: “I was a bit surprised to come on so early. I was hoping to get a run out over the two games and thankfully, it was a big one like this.
“All you can do is come on and try to make an impact. It was great to come to Italy and get involved.”
Trapattoni is not a fan of change for change’s sake, and his decision to send on Folan so early was a reflection of how difficult life had become for his players.
Andy Keogh, who was handed a rare start in place of the injured Aiden McGeady, was the unfortunate man to make way, and although disappointed, he understood the decision.
Keogh said: “The gaffer told me he has made a tactical decision. They had a man sent off, and he wanted to drop Robbie into the hole and put Caleb on for his extra height.
“It worked well in the end – Caleb got the flick-on and we nearly won the game in the end as well.
“Of course, it was disappointing coming off, but I know what the manager wanted.
“I wasn’t on the pitch when we scored, but we had the majority of possession, Italy were dropping deep and we needed some extra height. Caleb gave us that and it worked for us.”