Portugal, Ireland, Croatia and Czech through to EURO 2012

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The Republic of Ireland ended years of frustration by reaching their first major finals since the 2002 World Cup as they qualified for Euro 2012 on Tuesday.

A 1-1 draw at home to Estonia was sufficient to give them a 5-1 aggregate victory and only their second appearance at a European Championships, with the previous one coming in 1988.

They were joined by Croatia and 1996 finalists the Czech Republic as they saw off Turkey and Montenegro respectively – the Croats drawing 0-0 at home to progress 3-0 on aggregate and the Czechs winning 1-0 away to also qualify 3-0 on aggregate.

Portugal also eased into the finals as a brace apiece from Cristiano Ronaldo and Helder Postiga inspired the 2004 finalists to a 6-2 win at home to Bosnia-Herzegovina for a 6-2 aggregate win. It was the second successive time that the Portuguese had seen off the same opposition in a play-off having dashed the Bosnians hopes for the 2010 World Cup.

For Croatia it was sweet revenge as they had been knocked out by the Turks in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals on penalties, while for the Czechs it was some consolation for missing out on last year’s World Cup finals.

The Irish qualification will be particularly sweet for the trio of Shay Given, Damien Duff and skipper Robbie Keane, the only three starting the match who had appeared for Ireland at their last major finals, when Spain sent them packing from the 2002 World Cup on penalties in the second round.

“This is an historic moment to have qualified playing at home in Dublin,” said Given, referring to the time Ireland qualified for the 2002 World Cup after a play-off in Tehran against Iran.

Keane too was ecstatic.

“This is great for Ireland. This is a moment we will never forget,” he said.

Ireland’s veteran Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni equated this achievement with all the club trophies – including the Champions League – he has won down the years.

“This is as big a trophy for me,” said the 72-year-old.

“For me and Marco (his assistant Marco Tardelli) it is wonderful as we built this team and makes us proud about what we have done.”

Ireland’s dominance finally paid-off in the 32nd minute as Stephen Ward pounced on the rebound after Estonian goalkeeper Pavel Londak had saved Kevin Doyle’s header.

Not even a second-half equaliser by Konstantin Vassiljev was enough to dampen the celebrations of the 51,000 spectators, a record attendance at the Aviva Stadium for a football international.

Montenegro gave the Czechs some nervous moments especially in the second-half with star striker Mirko Vucinic prominent setting up Dejan Damjanovic, whose shot was brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Petr Cech.

Vucinic, though, had his head in his hands in despair in the 54th minute when, just three yards out and with the goal at his mercy, he sent his header over the bar.

Several other chances went begging and the hosts paid the price nine minutes from time when Petr Jiracek caught the defence napping and planted his shot into the back of the net.

“Hats off to the boys, they did an excellent job,” said Czech coach Michal Bilek, adding everyone was “as happy as can be with the outcome.

Croatia had few anxious moments as another tame display by the Turks ensured a rare failure at this level for Dutch coach Guus Hiddink.

The visitors only effort of note was a Selcuk Inan crossshot in the first-half which beat the ‘keeper and came back off the post in what was Hiddink’s final match in charge.

“I congratulate (Slaven) Bilic and Croatia, they deserved to go to the Euro,” said the veteran Dutchman.

“There is a big possibility that this was my last match as Turkey’s coach, actually I don’t intend to return to Istanbul since I need a vacation.”

“The Turks were playing for all or nothing but we showed character,” added Croatia captain Darijo Srna.

“After the first match there was euphoria in Croatia, but we decided to play as we did in Istanbul.”

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