Northern Ireland news

Ireland must face agony of play-offs

Sean O'Neill

IN A tense and nervy game in Warsaw, the Republic of Ireland fell to a 2-1 defeat against Poland and now must face an agonising two legged play-off to decide whether they will make the finals in France.

A 2-2 draw would have seen Martin O'Neill's men automatically through.

After a breathless opening few minutes, it was the home side who struck first, when Grzegorz Krychowiak found the corner of the Irish net with a fine right footed shot after 13 minutes, following poor Irish defending.

But just two minutes later the Irish were level in dramatic and controversial fashion when Shane Long was awarded a penalty following a high-footed challenge by Michal Pazdan. Although the referee pointed to the spot, replays showed that the foul had taken place outside the area.

Under intense pressure, Jonathan Walters was, however, coolness personified as he buried the spot kick decisively to the bottom right hand corner.

As half-time approached and with the game ebbing and flowing, perhaps the inevitable then happened as the lethal Robert Lewandowski scored a superb header from a Krzysztof Maczynski cross.

After the break, Ireland's best chance came when Richard Keogh got on the end of an Aidan McGeady cross only to head straight at the keeper.

Ireland were nowhere near their best, created little throughout and, in truth were disappointing after last Thursday night's heroics against Germany. They must also face into the play-offs, the draw for which takes place next Sunday, without John O'Shea who was sent off for two yellow cards and Walters who was booked for a foul on Lewandowski.

Ireland reached the Euro 2012 finals via the play-offs with Giovanni Trapattoni's side beating Estonia 5-1 over two legs.

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