Two late goals from Robbie Keane gave Ireland a 2-1 victory over Georgia in their World Cup qualifier at Croke Park, writes RTÉ's Glenn Mason.

It had been the captain who had confidently suggested this week that Ireland could top this group ahead of world champions Italy. However, on the basis of this poor performance that was a wildly misplaced boast.

Still as Giovanni Trapattoni pointed out yesterday, a win is always more important than a performance. That is just as well, as Ireland had trailed to Alexander Iashvilli's early goal with less than 20 minutes to go.

Ireland were lacklustre for much of the first hour and struggled to break down a Georgian defence that was excellently marshalled by AC Milan's Kakha Kaladze. Trapattoni's refusal to go with any creativity in the middle of the field did little to help matters.

Credit must also go to their coach Hector Cuper, who has done much to improve his side since the first meeting in Mainz in September. He was only denied a famous victory by a dubious penalty decision and a striker whose confidence has been restored.

That optimism of early in the week was made to look foolish as Ireland got off to an appalling start when Iashvili gave the visitors a shock lead. Stephen Kelly failed to clear a flick-on from David Siradze and Iashvili poked home from close range to silence Croke Park.

Tight defending has been Trapattoni's mantra and he will also been annoyed at his centre-back pairing of Richard Dunne and John O'Shea, who failed to cover themselves in glory when picking up Siradze.

Kelly, who had taken the place of Paul McShane at right-back, was looking nervous early on and another mistake forced Given into denying Iashvili a second.

Much of what was good from Ireland came from man-of-the-match Aiden McGeady, yet the Celtic winger delivered nothing but frustration in the opening half.

As the half wore on, central pairing Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan became less like statues and more involved in attacking play. And it was Andrews who thought he had brought his side level after 25 minutes.

However, the Blackburn Rovers midfielder's 20-yard effort was disallowed for an offside against Kevin Doyle. Television replays showed that the decision was harsh, as the ball had taken a deflection of Zurab Khizanishvili.

Ireland went close again when Giorgi Lomaia gathered a header from Keane at the second attempt following good play by Kevin Kilbane and Whelan.

Lomaia was called on again in the 41st minute as he denied McGeady a fine individual goal. The midfielder picked up the ball in his own half, shook off a few tackles but had his 20-yard shot pushed away to safety.

Given proved his class once again as he saved from Levan Kobiashvili to prevent Ireland going into half-time break two down.

The angst did not abate after the break, as Georgia riled Ireland with and without the ball. Ireland had plenty of possession but little in the way of guile, which was needed to break down a stubborn opposing defence.

On the hour mark, Ireland responded to the crowd's pleas and upped their game, with McGeady twice going close. His first effort was saved by Lomaia, while the second clipped the side-netting.

Ireland drew level in controversial circumstances. Referee Jouni Hyytia awarded Ireland a penalty for handball against Ucha Lobjanidze even though Keane had apparently been flagged offside. The skipper stepped up and sent Lomaia the wrong way for his 36th international goal.

Ireland will say that they deserved the goal for their persistence in attacking, but the manner of it will be galling for Cuper and his players. Once the first goal arrived it was almost inevitable that second would follow and so it proved six minutes later.

Keane again proved that he can deliver at international level when he escaped the attentions of David Kvirhvelia to head in McGeady's corner.

Rafael Benitez may have deemed him surplus to requirements at Liverpool, but Keane is the main reason why Ireland are now level with Italy and on who our world Cup dreams rest. When his team needed him, he delivered.

Despite some jittery moments near the end, Ireland held on for what could turn out to be the most crucial three points gained in this group.

Republic of Ireland: Given, Kelly, O'Shea, Dunne, Kilbane, McGeady, Whelan, Andrews, Duff (S Hunt '80), Doyle, Keane.

Subs: Kiely, Delaney, Foley, Keogh, Gibson, N Hunt.

Booked: Andrews

Georgia: Lomaia, Lobjanidze, Kaladze, Khizanishvili, Kvirkvelia, Menteshashvili (Khmaladze '70), Razmadze, Kobiashvili, Iashvili, Gotsiridze (Merebashvili '65), Siradze.

Subs: Kvashhvadze, Kvakhadze, Aleksidze, Odikadze, Martsvaladze.

Booked: Lobjanidze, Menteshashvili, Kvirkvelia

Referee: Jouni Hyytia (Finland)