Monday 22 December 2014

Euro 88 revisited

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The 1988 European Championships was the first major international football finals that Ireland qualified for. A World Cup winner with England, Jack Charlton led them to qualification on his first attempt, having been appointed manager less than two years earlier.
The tournament was held in the former West Germany and involved just eight teams in a league knock-out format. The winners of each group would face the runners-up of the other in the semi-finals.
Ireland was drawn in Group B along with the Netherlands, the Soviet Union and England.
As fate would have it Ireland's first opponent in Euro 88 was the auld enemy, England. The match took place on June 12 in Stuttgart's Neckarstadion in front of 51,573 fans with millions more watching live on TV. The stage was set for what was the biggest game in the history of Irish football.
Very few people believed Ireland had any hope of beating Bobby Robson's England team which appeared to have superior players in every position. England team: Peter Shilton, Stevens, Kenny Sansom, Neil Webb, Wright, Tony Adams, Brian Robson, Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley, Gary Lineker, John Barnes. Subs: Glen Hoddle for Webb (60); Hateley for Beardsley (82) Subs Not Used: Woods, Viv Anderson, McMahon
Although the Irish were underdogs there was no shortage of talent in the team with much of the squad plying their trade in the English First Division. Ireland team: Packie Bonner, Chris Morris, Mick McCarthy, Kevin Moran, Chris Hughton, Ray Houghton, Paul McGrath, Ronnie Whelan, Tony Galvin, Frank Stapleton, John Aldridge. Subs: Niall Quinn for Stapleton (63), Kevin Sheedy for Galvin (76) Subs Not Used: Gerry Peyton, John Byrne and John Anderson.
The teams had barely settled into the game when Ireland struck. Almost six minutes into the game a long ball from Kevin Moran was not dealt with by the English defence. Tony Galvin was on the end of the long ball and played it into the English penalty area.
Kenny Sansom made a mess of the clearance kicking the ball over his head into the six-yard box. John Aldridge out-jumped Tony Adams to head the ball across the box to Ray Houghton.
Ray Houghton met the ball with his head, lobbing it over the flat-footed Peter Shilton and into the English net.
One nil to Ireland. Ray Houghton was mobbed by his team mates...
...and the hoards of Irish fans in the stadium erupted in a wave of euphoria.
The shell-shocked English found it difficult to find any rhythm during the rest of the first half with arguably the better chances falling to Ireland.
Peter Shilton dived to pluck the ball from the feet of Ray Houghton after the midfielder beat the offside trap. Chris Morris also forced a fine save from Shilton with a surprise strike through a crowd of players.
Bobby Robson's half time team talk had the desired effect as England began the second half with renewed purpose. Both Gary Linekar and Peter Beardsley missed good opportunities to grab an equaliser for England.
Shots from Beadsley and John Barnes also caused Irish hearts to skip a beat with both efforts going narrowly wide.
Even when England did manage to get the ball on target they couldn't get past Packie Bonner who was in inspired form in the Irish goal. The Donegal man denied, Webb, Lineker, Beardsley, Barnes and Robson on different occasions.
Both Gary Lineker and Ronnie Whelan hit the crossbar at opposite ends of the pitch. And Ireland had a couple of late chances to put the match beyond England but Aldridge and Whelan failed to hit the back of the net.
Ireland continued to dig in, battling hard against the English onslaught. The Irish survived a final scare when Packie Bonner, at full stretch, flicked a goal-bound header from Lineker onto the post and out for a corner.
And with that final act of defiance Ireland recorded a historic victory, sparking celebrations in Stuttgart, Dublin and every Irish community around the globe.
Ireland's second group match in the 1988 Euro finals was against the Soviet Union on 15th June at the Niedersachsenstadion in Hanover in front of 38,308 fans.
Still on a high from the victory over England three days earlier, the mood was very positive in the Ireland camp. Ireland team: Packie Bonner, Chris Morris, Mick McCarthy, Kevin Moran, Chris Hughton, Ray Houghton, Kevin Sheedy, Ronnie Whelan, Tony Galvin, Frank Stapleton, John Aldridge. Substitutes: Tony Cascarino for Frank Stapleton (81)
The Soviets also entered the game brimming with confidence having beaten the highly rated Dutch 1-0 in their opening game. Soviet Union team: Rinat Dasaev, Anatoliy Demyanenko, Oleg Kuznetsov, Tengiz Sulakvelidze, Vagiz Khidiyatullin, Vasiliy Rats, Sergei Aleinikov, Aleksei Mikhailichenko, Igor Belanov, Alexandr Zavarov, Oleg Protasov. Subs - Sergey Gotsmanov for Sulakvelidze 46, Viktor Chanov for Dasaev 68. Coach: Valery Lobanovsky.
The Irish started the game impressively keeping the ball on the ground and proving they could play attractive football. As a result it was Ireland who created the better chances in the first half.
Ray Houghton was unlucky not to score after going on a dazzling run, beating three players only to be denied by a fine save from the Soviet goalkeeper Rinat Dasaev.
Then just as the first half was drawing to a close Ronnie Whelan broke the deadlock. Mick McCarthy launched a throw-in into the centre of the pitch just on the edge of the Soviet penalty area. The high looping ball dropped over the heads of two Soviet defenders to Ronnie Whelan who connected with a venomous scissor-kick to fire the ball into the top right corner of the Soviet goal.
Ireland ended the half with a precious one goal lead. If they could hold on it would be enough to send them through to the semi-finals of Euro 88.
In the second half Ireland continued to hold their own as the Soviets increased the pressure, creating a number of half chances.
The Irish resistance was finally broken when in the 75th minute Oleg Protasov scored to cancel out Whelan's earlier effort. An Igor Belanov flick on from a long ball fell to Protasov who side-footed a low shot under Packie Bonner into the Irish goal.
The result was disappointing for Ireland having held the lead and being so near to booking their place in the semi-finals. The Irish fans remained positive though; the result meant that Ireland needed just a draw from their final game against the Dutch to progress.
Ireland's final group game of Euro 88 took place on June 18 in the Parkstadion, Gelsenkirchen in front of 70,800 fans. It was virtually a home game for the Dutch but there was a sizable contingent of Irish supporters who made their voices heard.
Having more than given a good account of themselves at their first major international football finals, the Irish were confident they could get the point needed to reach the semi-finals. Ireland Team: Packie Bonner, Chris Morris, Mick McCarthy, Kevin Moran, Chris Hughton, Ray Houghton, Paul McGrath, Ronnie Whelan, Tony Galvin, Frank Stapleton (captain), John Aldridge. Subs - Kevin Sheedy for Chris Morris (46), Tony Cascarino for Stapleton (83)
Having been beaten by the Soviet Union in their first game, nothing other than a win would see the Dutch through to the semi-finals. Holland team: Hans van Breukelen, Adri van Tiggele, Ronald Koeman, Berry van Aerle, Frank Rijkaard, Jan Wouters, Gerald Vanenburg, Arnold Muhren, Erwin Koeman, Ruud Gullit (captain), Marco van Basten. Subs - Wim Kieft for E Koeman (51), John Bosman for Muhren (79). Coach: Rinus Michels.
Ireland performed well in the first half managing to shut the supremely talented Dutch out and almost scoring. From their only corner of the game defender-turned-midfielder Paul McGrath rose above the Dutch defence and headed the ball down against the post...
...It took a last gasp clearance by Vanenburgh to prevent the ball from spinning across the line.
In the second half an injury to Chris Morris saw Paul McGrath move into fullback with Kevin Sheedy brought on to fill the gap in midfield.
As time ticked away the Irish withdrew deeper into defence and pressure from the Dutch intensified. But Ireland held firm with McGrath a revelation at full back and with ten minutes left the game remained scoreless.
With just eight minutes left on the clock Ireland were within touching distance of the semi-finals. The Dutch continued to press and as Paul McGrath headed the ball clear it dropped to Ronald Koeman on the edge of the penalty area...
...Koeman snatched his shot, kicking the ball into the ground and sending it looping into the box with a wicked spin. The ball dropped onto the head of Wim Kieft whose flick looked to be sending it wide. However there was so much spin from Koeman's mishit shot it took the ball beyond the flailing dive of Packie Bonner and into the bottom corner of the Irish goal.
Jack Charlton sent on Tony Cascarino in place of Frank Stapleton in a desperate bid to rescue the situation but it was to no avail. The Dutch had scraped through and the brave Irish team's Euro journey was brought abruptly to a halt. It was a cruel blow to a team that had defied the odds to bring themselves within 10 minutes of qualifying from a group that contained both the eventual tournament finalists.
The Dutch, having so nearly been knocked out of the competition by Ireland, went on to avenge their group-stage defeat to the Soviet Union, beating them 2 - 0 in the final in Munich's Olympiastadion in front of 72,308 fans.
Euro 88 goes down in the history books as Ireland's first appearance in a major international football finals. But without doubt the memory that will last longest in the hearts of Irish football fans is that goal by Ray Houghton and the famous victory over England in Stuttgart.

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