BARI, Italy - Robbie Keane struck late to earn Ireland a fortunate 1-1 draw with 10-man Italy in their World Cup qualifying Group Eight match on Wednesday. Group leaders Italy, who kept a two-point advantage over second-placed Ireland, had Giampaolo Pazzini harshly sent off for an elbow after just four minutes but took the lead through Vincenzo Iaquinta's tap-in six minutes later. Former Inter Milan striker Keane prodded in the equaliser a minute from time after goalkeeper Shay Given's long punt down field was knocked on by substitute Caleb Folan. Pazzini, making his first Italy start having scored on his debut in Saturday's 2-0 win in Montenegro, was sent off by German referee Wolfgang Stark after challenging Ireland defender John O'Shea. The Sampdoria player led with his arm when jumping for a high ball but replays suggested there was no malice. Instead of complaining, the world champions went on the attack and Juventus forward Iaquinta tapped in following good work from Fabio Grosso and Andrea Pirlo on the left. Ireland, coached by former Italy boss Giovanni Trapattoni, had spells of pressure in the first half but at times it was easy to forget the hosts had a man less. The Azzurri even came close to doubling their lead when Simone Pepe slid the ball narrowly wide following another good Grosso cross. Ireland improved after the break and a muted penalty appeal was waved away when Stephen Hunt went down under Buffon's challenge. Half chances came and went before Keane's strike and the Irish nearly grabbed a winner in stoppage time. Italy remained on course for a place in next year's tournament in South Africa with 14 points from six matches. The game began with a few banners and songs criticising Italy coach Marcello Lippi for omitting Bari-born forward Antonio Cassano, but the crowd were soon behind the hosts following the sending-off.
1 April 2009
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