Keane's faith pays off

Robbie Keane saluted his Republic of Ireland team-mates after snatching a vital late equaliser to deny world champions Italy victory.

The Tottenham frontman stabbed the ball past Gianluigi Buffon with just three minutes of an eventful game remaining to ensure manager Giovanni Trapattoni left his home country with something to show for his efforts.

The visitors fell behind with just 11 minutes gone when striker Vincenzo Iaquinta converted Fabio Grosso’s cross despite having seen team-mate Giampaolo Pazzini sent off with only three minutes gone.

But Ireland rallied after Trapattoni changed personnel and system, and he was finally rewarded at the death.

A delighted Keane later admitted he had never given up hope of snatching a result which keeps the Republic firmly in the race for qualification.

He said: “I always thought it was going to come in the end. We kept plugging away. We had a lot of possession and we deserved to get a goal in the end.

“We had a lot of possession of the ball with them having 10 men, but full credit to the lads, we showed a lot of character and we are obviously delighted with the result in the end.

“When you score in the last few minutes, it’s always pleasing.”

The point means Ireland remain just two adrift of Italy, who are due at Croke Park in October after Trapattoni’s men travel to Bulgaria and Cyprus.

Asked how big a night the trip to the San Nicola Stadium had been, Keane said: “It’s up there. It would have been nice if we had got the win, but they are one of those teams.

“When you go a goal behind to Italy, you know it is always going to be tough because defensively, they are solid and they have got some fantastic players who pulled out all the tricks tonight to try to stop us.

“But full credit to the lads, we showed a lot of character.”

Italy coach Marcello Lippi was jeered on to the pitch in Bari as a result of his failure to select local hero Antonio Cassano.

But his players were booed off on the final whistle having had a five-point lead snatched from their grasp.

However, Trapattoni thought the criticism was unfair.

He said: “I know Italy very well and I understand that Lippi is trying to build his team with young players.

“They played with personality. They defended very well and played like I expected them to.”

Lippi was disappointed with German referee Wolfgang Stark’s decision to dismiss Pazzini, one which he felt was pivotal.

He said: “Obviously we are very disappointed. We thought it was unfair to send off Pazzini for something that was not violent at all.

“But we fought very hard and only conceded the goal in final stages, playing on a heavy pitch.”

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