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Ireland joy as Wales are defeated

Republic of Ireland 1-0 Wales Stephen Ireland scored as the hosts marked the first soccer international to be played at Croke Park with a victory.

Stephen Ireland's first-half goal gave the Republic of Ireland victory over Wales in the first football international played at Dublin's Croke Park, as Stephen Staunton's team recorded a third straight win in UEFA EURO 2008™ Group D.

Great expectations
The early exchanges had failed to match the historic occasion with both sides struggling to retain possession. Indeed, the expectant crowd of more than 72,000 – the largest for a Republic of Ireland international – had to wait until the 14th minute for a sight of goal, when Robbie Keane pulled a shot wide following a half-cleared corner. Although the same player spurned an even better chance, after Ireland's pass had beaten the Wales offside trap and his captain dragged another shot wide, Keane decisively returned the favour to set up Ireland's winner close to half-time.

Croke Park first
Prior to that moment, Wales had responded to Irish pressure with Craig Bellamy dispossessing Richard Dunne and bearing down on goal, with Shay Given coming quickly and bravely out to foil the Liverpool FC forward. For the hosts, Keane played in Damien Duff, prompting Wales keeper Danny Coyne to save with his feet. Staunton's men were not to be denied for long though, and on 39 minutes Keane played a sublime reverse pass to release midfielder Ireland, who showed great composure to round Coyne and slot in from an acute angle.

Opportunities missed
Wales fought back in a largely forgettable second half and could have levelled after 73 minutes when Bellamy miscued a shot from Ryan Giggs's cross. Ireland came close to doubling their advantage on 81 minutes, however, as Kevin Doyle sliced an effort against the woodwork on the half-volley. In the event, Ireland's goal sufficed for the home side and they maintained the pressure on Germany and Czech Republic ahead of the visit of Slovakia on Wednesday. Wales, with three points from four matches, will hope to kick-start their campaign at home to San Marino the same day.