By Martin BrehenyIreland 3, Malta 2
DUBLIN — The Republic of Ireland lived dangerously in Malta but survived to tell a tale of how qualification for the European championship finals next year is back in their own hands.
A 3-2 victory over Malta in Valletta last Wednesday leaves Ireland in second place behind Yugoslavia in Group 8 with one match to go (vs. Macedonia away on Oct. 10. Croatia, who are a point adrift of Ireland, will be at home to Yugoslavia on the same day.
Ireland mixed the good with the awful in the win over Malta. Goals from Robbie Keane and Gary Breen gave them a 2-0 lead after 21 minutes. They seemed to be heading for a crushing win but lost their shape and concentration after that and were stunned by a Malta revival that yielded two goals in the 62nd and 69th minutes.
Ireland looked in dire trouble, but were rescued by the team captain, Steve Staunton, who drove a free kick to the net in the 74th minute to ensure three priceless points.
Northern Ireland lost 4-0 away to Germany and are well out of the qualification race. England drew with Poland and are now relying on a Swedish victory over Poland in the final game to keep their hopes alive while Scotland, who drew 0-0 with Estonia, are in second place in their group and with two home games to come look likely to clinch a playoff game.
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