Euro 2012 qual. - Late rally fails to save Ireland
A thrilling late comeback from the Republic of Ireland was not enough for Giovanni Trapattoni's side to salvage an unlikely point as they suffered a 3-2 defeat to Russia in their Euro 2012 Group B qualifier at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Alexander Kerzhakov opened the scoring in the 11th minute with an opportunist strike, before more slack marking from the hosts enabled Alan Dzagoev to double his side's lead midway through the first half.
Ireland looked fired up as they re-emerged for the second half but, within five minutes of the restart, Roman Shirokov benefited from a vicious deflection to net his side's third. It looked to have sealed a resounding victory for the visitors.
But a sudden surge of hope set in around the stadium after captain Robbie Keane won and promptly dispatched a late penalty, and substitute Shane Long briskly added a second six minutes later to set up a pulsating finale, but Russia clung on to claim a vital three points.
Both sides received a big boost going into the clash after Slovakia were beaten 3-1 by Armenia earlier in the evening, and Trapattoni named an unchanged starting line-up with the same side which beat Andorra last month let loose once more.
Robbie Keane became Ireland's third most capped player on his 103rd start, and the striker saw a delicate chip rebound off the crossbar in just the seventh minute after a breathtaking passage of play saw Igor Akinfeev stranded after fine wing play from Aiden McGeady.
But Russia looked like a side with a point to prove as they sought to bounce back from their defeat to Slovakia last time out, and Dick Advocaat's side seized the initiative after Richard Dunne conceded a pretty dubious free kick 25 yards out.
Kerzhakov has netted eight goals in four games for his club Zenit St Petersburg, and the forward capitalised on some slack marking from the hosts to stab the ball home from close range after Shay Given parried away Andrey Arshavin's fierce free-kick.
Only Spain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic have racked up more goals in the history of European Championship qualifiers than Russia, and the visitors doubled their lead in the 28th minute to further stun their hosts.
Aleksandr Anyukov streaked clear down the right, then squared a low delivery into the penalty area which Kerzhakov dummied before Dzagoev lashed a fierce strike beyond Given after having been afforded a copious amount of space in the box.
A fleeting dash of inspiration from McGeady almost saw Ireland reduce the deficit as the winger weaved his way through two challenges before threading a neat pass into the path of Keane, but the onrushing Doyle was unable to convert his cut back.
Trapattoni looked to have given his side a rousing half-time team talk, but any fresh belief was quashed within five minutes of the restart as Shirokov was allowed to canter through the Ireland half unopposed, before his speculative drive took a vicious deflection off Richard Dunne to beat Given.
The hosts grew increasingly frustrated as Shane Long and Darron Gibson were introduced to replace the ineffectual Liam Lawrence and Glenn Whelan, but suddenly the spirit lifted markedly inside the Aviva Stadium as Keane won a penalty at the expense of Yuri Zhirkov, and the Ireland skipper stepped up to slam home the spot kick with aplomb in the 72nd minute.
Waves of hope and expectation swept through the home fans as Ireland piled forward in their droves, and six minutes later the deficit was reduced further. Given lumped a long ball into the Russia box and, after McGeady's initial effort was parried unconvincingly by Akinfeev, substitute Long sent the hosts into delirium with a clinical finish.
But Ireland could not deliver a telling blow to level the scores late on as the visitors defended stoutly, and the best chance of the final stages was inexplicably squandered in stoppage time by substitute Pavel Pogrebnyak from six yards out.
The victory eases the pressure on Advocaat and resurrects Russia's faltering campaign, while Trapattoni's Ireland will be desperate to respond with a positive result against Slovakia on Tuesday.