Alaba's late strike keeps Austria hopes alive
VIENNA - David Alaba kept Austria's World Cup qualifying hopes alive by firing an 84th minute goal to give them a 1-0 win over Ireland on Tuesday.
The 21-year-old collected the ball and rifled into the roof of the net with his weaker right foot from 12 meters after the Ireland defense failed to clear a cross, effectively ending the visitors' hopes of qualifying.
The goal was just reward for the hosts who burst into life after a scrappy opening hour.
Austria, who last qualified for the World Cup in 1998, stayed third in European Group C with 14 points, three behind second-placed Sweden who they visit next month. Ireland have 11.
Ireland had two good chances in the first half as Robbie Keane got clear of his marker and shot across the face of the goal on the turn before Anthony Pilkington shot into the side-netting after Austria lost possession in the penalty area.
Austria repeatedly tried to chip passes over the Ireland defense for Andreas Weimann and Martin Harnik to run on to, but with little success.
Alaba was their inspiration as he had once fierce drive pushed away by David Forde, then produced another effort which bounced off a defender into the path of Harnik whose shot was also saved.
Austria then produced a flurry of chances in the closing half hour.
Christian Fuchs pulled the ball back from the byline for Weimann but his shot was weak and saved by Forde, then Harnik got clear of his marker and fired over from a narrow angle, the sort of chance he often takes in the German Bundesliga.
Marko Arnautivoc's header was cleared off the line by Paul Green, Harnik missed another chance when his close-range effort was blocked by a defender before Alaba's goal brought the Ernst Happel stadium to life.
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)