Robbie Keane scored his 50th and 51st international goals as the Republic of Ireland earned victory in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to keep pace with the UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group B leaders.
Giovanni Trapattoni's visitors needed a victory to remain level on points with Russia and Slovakia, who had both won earlier on Saturday. Keane's first-half double, coupled with a missed penalty from Ivan Trickovski, ensured the visitors remained firmly in the qualification mix.
Ireland were in high spirits after claiming the Nations Cup last Sunday thanks to Keane's winner against Scotland, and all the pre-match talk was about whether their all-time leading goalscorer could bring up his half-century in Skopje. The Tottenham Hotspur FC forward was swift to provide the answer, firing in from 25 metres after eight minutes with the aid of a deflection off Nikolce Noveski.
Mirsad Jonuz's men were equally creative but when Goran Pandev latched on to Trickovski's chip into the box, Shay Given sprawled at his feet to deny the striker. That intervention proved vital after 37 minutes as Keane pounced on a back pass from Boban Grncarov and swept his finish past the onrushing Martin Bogatinov.
The two-goal advantage could have been halved four minutes later when John O'Shea fouled Pandev in the area but Trickovski fired the resulting penalty against the bar. Ireland emerged from the interval a tighter unit at the back and the home side – fifth in the section – only threatened from distance.
Mario Gjurovski demanded an acrobatic save from Given from long range before Goran Popov's swerving drive from 30 metres hit the side netting. Slovakia head to Dublin on 2 September and Ireland visit Russia four days later in matches likely to have a decisive impact on the standings.