Republic of Ireland 0 Slovakia 0
Robbie Keane passed up a glorious opportunity to snatch victory against Slovakia as the Republic of Ireland’s hopes of automatic qualification for Euro 2012 were dealt a major blow.
The Los Angeles Galaxy striker headed wide from just five yards with 16 minutes of the game remaining, with the visitors having enjoyed the better of the game until that point.
Damien Duff had earlier forced a good save from goalkeeper Jan Mucha with a 38th-minute shot which clipped defender Martin Skrtel, but Slovakia were more than value for their point with Shay Given having to make first-half saves from both Vladimir Weiss and Filip Holosko.
Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni's concerns over Kevin Doyle's fitness after a knee injury proved unfounded in the early stages as the striker repeatedly put central defender Martin Skrtel and full-back Peter Pekarik under pressure down the left.
But he turned up on the right with five minutes gone to lift the ball into Keane’s path, although the captain was unable to collect it and Skrtel shepherded it back to keeper Jan Mucha.
In a scrappy start to the game, the Republic enjoyed the better of the possession, but were able to create little as they repeatedly surrendered it cheaply.
But Slovakia were proving even less of a threat despite Hamsik’s best efforts to prompt the visitors from midfield, although it was they who produced the game’s first shot when defender Marek Cech blasted well wide from distance with 15 minutes played.
Keane shinned an attempted volley straight up into the air as he tried acrobatically to divert John O’Shea’s cross towards goal seconds later, but it was just not happening for the home side.
Midfielder Miroslav Stoch failed to trouble Shay Given’s goal with an 18th-minute long-range effort, but the Ireland keeper had to get his positioning right seconds later to clutch Vladimir Weiss’ well-struck shot to his midriff after he had worked his way into the penalty area.
The Slovakians were warming to their task and after safely negotiating the first 25 minutes, began to cause problems for Trapattoni’s men.
Ireland were far from having things all their own way and were looking increasingly vulnerable as the visitors tried to hit them on the counter-attack.
It took a well-timed 26th-minute challenge by Ward to prevent striker Filip Holosko from collecting Hamsik’s intelligent pass into the box, but the danger was by no means over.
Keith Andrews desperately hacked Weiss’ free-kick away from Skrtel after the ball was allowed to travel across the penalty area, and when possession was recycled, Holosko sent a header towards the bottom corner which Given had to turn away.
The Republic were caught on more than one occasion by marauding full-backs Pekarik and Cech as they got in behind opposite numbers Ward and O’Shea.
However, it was they who almost took the lead seven minutes before the break when Damien Duff and Andrews engineered a path through the Slovakia defence.
The pair exchanged passes on the edge of the box for Duff to fire in a left-foot shot which clipped Skrtel and made Mucha’s save all the more impressive.
Duff’s near miss seemed to inspire his side and they finished the half in much more positive fashion.
Ward should have done better when he was presented with a chance to send in a cross on the stroke of half-time, but he blazed the ball high over.
The home side returned knowing their hopes of automatic qualification from Group B would be dealt a series blow if they could not find a way past Slovakia, and they started the second half in determined mood.
There were ambitious appeals for a penalty from the travelling fans behind Shay Given’s goal when Weiss went to ground under Aiden McGeady’s 48th-minute challenge, although Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca was unmoved.
Mr Proenca was similarly unimpressed at the other end seconds later when Glenn Whelan burst into the box after controlling a loose ball and collided with Pekarik, prompting concerted, but unanswered, appeals from the stands.
Andrews took aim from all of 30 yards with 54 minutes gone, but saw his low drive blocked by Skrtel before it got anywhere near Mucha’s goal.
Weiss found space wide on the right two minutes later with Ward in front of him, and the full-back did well to hold him up before deflecting his effort across goal.
Duff caused problems once again when he worked the space to curl in a 58th-minute shot, but the ball comfortably cleared the angle of bar and post.
But Sean St Ledger came to the Republic’s rescue three minutes later after Holosko got in behind Richard Dunne and rolled the ball into Hamsik’s run.
The Slovakia skipper seemed certain to score, but St Ledger put his body on the line to block with his chest as Ireland enjoyed a major escape.
Trapattoni made his first change with 64 minutes played when he replaced Doyle with West Brom striker Simon Cox, but Ward had to turn a Weiss cross behind for a 68th-minute corner after the winger once again eluded the green shirts.
McGeady threatened to turn the tide 19 minutes from time when he cut in from the left and went for goal, but his skidding effort flew into the side-netting.
Keane’s big moment finally arrived with 74 minutes gone when he was presented with a golden opportunity to snatch victory.
Duff picked the striker at the far post out with a perfectly-floated cross, but he powered his header wide.
Keane almost redeemed himself with six minutes remaining when he set up Cox, but he dragged his left-foot shot harmlessly wide of the post.