Draw puts pressure on Ireland
Republic of Ireland 2 Israel 2
The Republic of Ireland again failed to take a decisive grip on their World Cup destiny following a bitter and fractious encounter with Israel.
After conceding a last-minute equaliser in Tel Aviv just over two months ago when the teams last met, on this occasion they threw away a two-goal lead in the Group Four clash at Lansdowne Road.
Greek referee Kyros Vassaras and Israeli goalkeeper Dudu Awat were the figures who took centre stage, notably with the latter getting Andy O’Brien sent off, after Ian Harte and Robbie Keane had blazed the early trail with the double blast by the 11th minute.
Before kick-off, Switzerland had added to the pressure on both sides to get a positive result with their unconvincing 3-1 win in the Faroe Islands, next stop on Ireland's Group Four journey on Wednesday.
That pressure might have been eased with just 150 seconds gone on the clock if Greek referee Kyros Vassaras had pointed to the penalty spot when Robbie Keane was clipped in the area by Ariel Benado.
Vassaras clearly looked to his assistant, who remained unmoved, much to the angst of the injured Keane who was then a spectator as Ireland’s disappointment was shortlived.
When Adoram Keisi fouled Kevin Kilbane seven yards outside the area, it allowed Harte to step up and underline his inclusion as a deadball specialist, an area Ireland failed miserably in during the 1-1 draw in Tel Aviv just over two months ago.
Harte’s left foot did the trick, for although his delivery lacked pace, it was ideally placed as goalkeeper Dudu Awat could do nothing more than push it onto the post, allowing the former Leeds player to celebrate his 10th goal for Ireland.
This time, unlike in Israel when Kerr was accused of being conservative in his approach after taking an early lead in that game, Ireland pushed forward and were rewarded with a second goal in the 11th minute.
It exuded quality as Reid fashioned a ball from inside the centre circle in behind the Israeli defence and onto the right foot of Ireland’s all-time leading goalscorer in Keane who cushioned a volley beyond a stranded Awat for the 25th goal for his country.
Ireland had clearly drawn the sting out of the Israelis, and from that moment Kerr’s side exercised a degree of control and patience as they waited for further openings.
That appeared to pay dividends in the 25th minute when Damien Duff and Harte combined down the left, setting up Clinton Morrison for a shot that was parried by Awat into the path of Keane for a simple sidefoot finish, but the offside flag had been raised.
That proved to be Keane’s last contribution in the match as he was substituted seconds later, seemingly still feeling the effects of his earlier injury.
It led to the introduction of Kavanagh and a significant reshuffle as Kilbane was moved out wide to the left, with Duff sitting in behind Morrison.
Ireland continued to look comfortable, and by the 39th minute Shay Given had yet to be tested, only to then concede out of the blue and with what proved to be Israel’s only effort on goal in the half.
Kerr’s side were caught out from a deadball situation as Yossi Benayoun delivered a left-wing free-kick just inside the area where Yehiel crowned his first start with a 16-yard header that gave Given no chance.
Drama then ensued in injury-time when O’Shea was adjudged to have held Benayoun as Idan Tal delivered a cross into the area, resulting in Vassaras pointing to the spot.
The penalty was twice taken before Avi Nimni fired home the equaliser, leading to boos echoing around the ground as Vassaras departed the field.
Just three minutes into the second half Ireland should have regained the lead, only for a Kavanagh corner to whistle through the area to the far post and hit an unsuspecting Duff on his left ear, with the ball rebounding into the grateful arms of Awat.
Ireland at least appeared a side determined to atone for the ending of the first half, with Yehiel booked when he shoulder-barged into Kilbane in the 54th minute, but Harte’s 32-yard free-kick was smacked into the wall on this occasion.
Yehiel was swiftly followed into the notebook of Vassaras, who was now beginning to take centre stage, by former Everton midfielder Tal for his foul on Holland.
The match then descended into farce as Vassaras lost control, most notably with the Israelis feigning injury and time-wasting, and it was clear the match was beginning to boil over.
Further yellow cards followed for Yaniv Katan and Duff for an incident just after the hour as the mayhem increased.
Then Kerr made a bold move by bringing on Gary Doherty in the 65th minute for Reid, pushing the utility player into attack and allowing Duff to move to the right wing.
Israel brought on an attacking player of their own in Pini Balili for Katan, even though they were finding themselves encamped inside their own half.
Doherty nearly made himself a hero, but in meeting another Kavanagh corner in the 79th minute, he planted his awkward header a yard wide of the right-hand post.
Moments later Awat made a superb save at the feet of Duff as he turned on a Morrison ball, with the goalkeeper the centre of attention again within seconds.
Awat had spent more time on the ground rolling around to a number of challenges than he had in actually doing his job, and he was involved with Andy O’Brien in the 83rd minute that led to a red card for the Newcastle centre-back.
Awat, though, claimed he had been caught in the face when O’Brien had simply pushed him in the chest.
Ireland looked to have won it in the 88th minute when Doherty headed a Kavanagh free-kick into the six-yard box where a stooping O’Shea was somehow denied by Awat.
There then followed seven minutes of injury time, during which Morrison missed a sitter in front of an open goal from a Duff cross.
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