Shane Long celebrates his famous goal. Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Ireland stun world champions Germany to secure Euro 2016 playoff qualifying place at least

The Boys in Green secured a famous victory last night.

Republic of Ireland 1

Germany 0

Niall Kelly reports from the Aviva Stadium

OF ALL THE possible scenarios, the ifs and buts and maybes and arrah sure you never knows, we never dreamt that this would be the one that came to pass.

To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe.

If Shane Long goes on to score dozens more goals for Ireland, he might never score one as important as the moment of clinical precision that sent the Aviva Stadium into unbridled ecstasy in the 70th minute.

Once again left on the bench to ruminate, Long exploded with an impact that secured a playoff place at the very least and turned Group D on its head once again.

The only blemish on what was nearly the perfect night came across the water in Hampden Park as Robert Lewandowski struck in stoppage time to nick a 2-2 draw for Poland against Scotland, meaning Ireland will likely need three points or a high-scoring draw to qualify automatically.

Still, in the grand scheme of things, we won’t let that spoil the party.

These contributions from Long have come too often to dub him an accidental hero. Maybe that honour is best bestowed on Darren Randolph, introduced as a substitute late in the first half when Shay Given had to be stretchered off with a twisted knee.

It was his booming clearance that soared over the Germans’ high line. With the freshest legs on the field, Long streaked through before firing the ball past Manuel Neuer in a brilliant marriage of precision and power.

The advantage secured, Randolph had one of those nights for the 20 agonising minutes that remained, determined to hold the fort. He parried away Jerome Boateng’s piledriver and then was just as nimble to smother Ilkay Gundogan’s low shot as it threatened to creep into the corner.

The one occasion when he was helplessly rooted to the spot, Thomas Muller’s effort sailed just past his post. Sometimes you make your luck; other times your luck makes you.

The dice appeared firmly loaded in Germany’s favour before kick-off. Hamstrung by suspensions and injuries, Martin O’Neill’s starting XI featured five Championship players; Jogi Low’s had seven players who were involved in last year’s World Cup final. In that context, there seemed to be something wildly ambitious about O’Neill’s programme notes which reminded us that “destiny remains in our own hands.”

There was no rushing Germany as they initiated a sort of death by a thousand cuts, pressing and prying and probing so relentlessly that an Irish slip seemed inevitable. Remarkably, given the pattern of play in the first half, their breakthrough never arrived. Ireland’s rigid discipline allowed them to keep their shape for the most part and, most importantly, keep the scoreboard level.

It took less than 25 seconds for Germany to fire the first warning shot and Stephen Ward — a surprise inclusion in the team considering he has only played one competitive game for Burnley this season — needed to be immediately alert to poke a dangerous ball away from Muller. As Lewandowski put Poland 1-0 up in Hampden Park, the news barely registered.

Truth be told, the sold-out Aviva Stadium crowd of 50,604 had enough to concern them. Boateng powered a free header over Shay Given’s crossbar early on, and when Mario Gotze picked out Gundogan in the 13th minute, it took a despairing dive from John O’Shea to deflect his shot behind.

That wild desperation in defence was to become a regular occurrence. Richard Keogh had to time his tackle just right to nip in ahead of Gotze, and there was a collective sigh of relief around the ground when Mesut Ozil’s goal was ruled out for offside.

Ireland weathered the storm with tactics that were smart if not particularly adventurous. Martin O’Neill charged up and down the West Stand touchline with wanton disregard for the confines of his technical area, playing every ball. The priority was always to clear the danger, and occasionally a hurried clearance was controlled or chased down by Daryl Murphy and Jon Walters, but it provided 30 seconds respite at best.

In his pre-match press conference, O’Neill insisted that he would encourage his team to play when the situation allowed. Backed up by some tireless work from James McCarthy and Robbie Brady in particular, Wes Hoolahan did his best to steady proceedings in midfield. Pragmatism meant that, on more than one occasion, the ball was pinged back to Given’s feet rather than risk committing players forward with abandon.

A lot of the promising Irish forays were snuffed out by Gundagon, patrolling in front of the German back four. Ireland’s only real chance in that first half came in the 34th minute. After a neat spell of possession in midfield, greeted by olés from the home fans, Walters found himself with a sight on goal but his shot was blocked behind by Toni Kroos.

Ozil had one last golden chance for Germany when picked out by Thomas Muller five minutes before the break but he flashed his shot wide. From the resulting kickout, Given pulled up with a twisted knee and Randolph entered the fray in his place.

When Ireland emerged for the second half, they seemed invigorated by possibility. Walters was a nuisance down the right and kept asking questions of the German defence to keep them honest.

But there was a lingering feeling that Germany would only need half a chance to burst the gradually swelling Irish bubble and it nearly arrived in the 55th minute when Reus turned Cyrus Christie and Andre Schurrle volleyed just over.

Long’s impact was an instantaneous as could have been hoped. He was only on the pitch five minutes when he raced clear of his leggy watchmen to score a goal that will go down alongside McAteer 2001 and Keane 2002 as one of the defining Irish moments this century.

Germany had their chances as they peppered the Irish goal late on, but once in the ascendancy, that dogged defending became even more resolute.

Ireland were not to be denied. Off to Warsaw we go, the playoff secured, still dreaming a dream that no longer seems that impossible.

IRELAND: Given (Randolph 44), Christie, Keogh, O’Shea, Ward (Meyler 69), Brady, McCarthy, Hendrick, Walters, Hoolahan, Murphy (Long 65).

GERMANY: Neuer (c), Ginter (Bellarabi 77), Boateng, Hummels, Hector, Özil, Kroos, Gündogan (Volland 85), Reus, Götze (Schurrle 35), Müller.

Here’s how the Boys in Green rated in tonight’s Euro 2016 qualifier win over Germany>

LIVE: Republic of Ireland v Germany, Euro 2016 qualifier>

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