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Sean St Ledger thought he had grabbed leveller as plucky Irish lose to world champions Spain

Updated: Thursday, 13 Jun 2013 10:27 | Comments

Irish celebrations were short lived in the Yankee Stadium
Irish celebrations were short lived in the Yankee Stadium

Sean St Ledger thought he had snatched a memorable draw for the Republic of Ireland against World champions Spain.

The 28-year-old Leicester defender fired home from close range after substitute keeper Iker Casillas had turned Stephen Kelly's 81st-minute header on to the crossbar to spark mass celebrations at Yankee Stadium in New York.

However, his joy proved to be shortlived as an assistant referee's flag handed the Spaniards a reprieve.

St Ledger said: "I went away celebrating, but it was actually a really good decision from the linesman, having seen it again. But it would have been a good feeling, obviously.

"I think Coxy [Simon Cox] was offside from Stephen Kelly's header. I don't know if that's right, I'm not sure.

"Obviously, Casillas touched it on to the bar. I don't know the rules these days, they keep changing and it's open to interpretation.

"On another day, you might have got it."

St Ledger's big moment came as Ireland launched a late assault in a bid to cancel out substitute Roberto Soldado's 69th-minute opener, which had finally broken the deadlock.

Up until that point, Giovanni Trapattoni's men had rediscovered a measure of the dogged resilience which had served them so well in the past to frustrate a side which had trounced them 4-0 at last summer's Euro 2012 finals. 

"To be fair, I thought we actually did a lot better than we did in Poland" - Sean St Ledger 

Spain dominated possession for long periods and after keeper David Forde had denied David Villa one on one, Pedro blasted a 41st-minute shot against the bar.

However, Derby striker Conor Sammon might have given the Republic a 27th-minute lead when he ran in on goal after robbing Gerard Pique, only to fire wide of the far post.

Soldado's crisp volley eventually put Vicente Del Bosque's men ahead, but substitute James McClean forced Casillas into a fine 80th-minute save, and it was from the resulting corner that St Ledger struck.

Cruelly, Spain made sure of the win with two minutes remaining when Chelsea's Juan Mata added a second which was justified on the balance of play, but harsh on Ireland in the circumstances.

St Ledger said: "To be fair, I thought we actually did a lot better than we did in Poland.

"They are an unbelievable side for hanging on to the ball - but they do that to nearly every team in the world.

"We watched highlights of the France game and the possession stats were probably nearly just the same as here, so it's not just us.

"They are a fantastic side and I can't see any other winners of the World Cup next year."

Despite his disappointment at the manner of defeat, Trapattoni conceded that Spain deserved to win.

He said: "The better team won - they are the champions of the world. They controlled the game for 45 minutes, but we had a good balance and a good personality.

"We know the Spanish players, they are superior technically and they usually have more possession.

"Football is particularly strange because we had [the chance with] Sammon and the 'goal' was a goal. But that said, we have to recognise that Spain deserved to win."

Del Bosque was pleased to have emerged with a victory, and perhaps more importantly, without any injuries ahead of Sunday's Confederations Cup opener against Uruguay in Brazil.

He said: "We achieved what we came to do. Nobody was injured and nothing bad happened in the run-up to Brazil. Physically we are better - and in fact, better now than when we came.

"We showed a good level, especially given that we had most of the ball, but lacked the last pass.

"We did a good job on their counter-attack, so I'm leaving satisfied - and I think we could have won by one more goal."

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