Hero Given keeps Irish hopes alive
THE Irish rode their luck to stop Russia scoring and grab a point that could yet see them reach the 2012 finals.
It’s still tight in Group B and the Irish could still be squeezed out by Slovakia, but this was the Republic’s sixth straight shut-out.
Keeper Shay Given pulled off a cracking early save to deny Andrey Arshavin, diving low to his left to turn the Arsenal man’s long-ranger round a post.
It was all Russia and Igor Semshov was right on the money with an effort on the turn that bounced off the artificial surface and was going to sneak in a corner.
But Given was equal to the task again and threw himself to his right to paw it away.
The Aston Villa keeper fumbled a much easier effort a couple of minutes later though and was relieved to see it bobble behind for a corner rather than into the net.
The Irish were treating the ball like it was a grenade with the pin out so it was no surprise that the Russians kept on coming at them.
Richard Dunne was next to produce a heroic moment when he blocked Semshov’s shot on the line.
Former Chelsea man Yuri Zhirkov had danced past two men on the left of the box to set up the chance.
Given was beaten but Dunne flung his body in the way and Damien Duff hacked away the rebound.
Still the Russians piled on the pressure and Konstantin Zyryanov was only just wide with a long-ranger.
Zhirkov then hit a post with a corner, Duff hacked a header off the line and the half-time whistle was a great relief to the Irish.
It was more of the same after the break though, with Dunne making another fine block to deny Roman Shirokov.
The Russians sent on Spurs striker Roman Pavlyuchenko before the hour mark as Semshov fluffed a great chance to shoot in the box.
Ireland had offered nothing at the other end and Robbie Keane was too slow to react when Simon Cox, on for Kevin Doyle, curled a decent ball to the back post.
Keane then headed harmlessly over from a free-kick after Stephen Hunt replaced Duff and Dunne was booked for a challenge on Zhirkov that left both men needing treatment.
Russia thought they had won it two minutes from the end when Zyryanov slid in at the far post but Given somehow kept out his diving header.
REAL DEAL: Drenthe looked up to Sneijder (left) at Madrid but now must impress Everton manager Moyes (bottom left)
WING AND A PRAYER: Shay Given