Saturday 1 October 2016

A nation holds its breath . . . again

There are few other countries that have had such a love-hate relationship with play-off fixtures

Published 14/11/2015 | 02:30

A dejected Steve Staunton in Brussels in 1997
A dejected Steve Staunton in Brussels in 1997
A screengrab of Thierry Henry's infamous handball during Ireland's 2010 World Cup play-off defeat to France

Tales of woe and occasional wonder - that sums up the Republic of Ireland's experience in play-offs for major soccer tournaments in the last 50 years.

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Now the nation awaits Monday night and the return match against Bosnia & Herzegovina at the Aviva Stadium following the drama in Zenica last night.

Emotions will run high in the second leg of the eighth playoff in which our soccer team has featured since 1965.

The only certainty is that it is death or glory with no consolation prize for the losers.

Cash the real winner as heroism falls short

Ireland v Spain

World Cup 1966 play-off

Nov 10, 1965 - Paris: 0-1

A place in World Cup 1966 awaited the winners but the FAI hedged their bets by bargaining for the entire gate receipts before agreeing to play at the Stade Colombes in Paris.

Did they sell out the players? There was a possibility that FIFA would have taken the decision out of their hands anyway, but the FAI got their dough and Spanish fans packed the stadium.

The Irish battled hard. Pat Dunne pulled off some great saves; John Giles was superb, and on counter-attacks, he and Andy McEvoy came close to scoring. Spain's Ufarte got the vital goal in the 79th minute.

Ireland: Pat Dunne; Brennan, Tony Dunne; Foley, Cantwell, Meagan; O'Neill, Dunphy, McEvoy, Giles, Haverty.

Quote: "True, Spain did not steal their victory, but it is fair to say that Ireland, by their courage and quality of play during certain periods, would equally have deserved to qualify for the finals" - L'Equipe.

Dutch delight marks end of Charlton era

Ireland v Holland

Euro 1996 play-off

Dec 13, 1995 - Anfield: 0-2

Jack Charlton was a manager under pressure and Holland boss Guus Hiddink came with a strong team which featured new wonder boy, 19-year-old Patrick Kluivert.

Despite a typically courageous performance by Ireland, the Dutch were too good and Kluivert scored in the 30th and 88th minutes to seal qualification.

Afterwards, Charlton lingered on the pitch and was hailed by the supporters.

We suspected it was a farewell after nine memorable years, and that was confirmed on Thursday, December 21.

Ireland: A Kelly; G Kelly, Babb, McGrath, Irwin; Kenna, Townsend (McAteer 51), Sheridan, Phelan; Aldridge (Kernaghan 85), Cascarino.

Quote: "We lost our way in the qualifying competition by dropping stupid points against the Austrians and in Liechenstein. Not having Roy Keane was a blow and then Andy (Townsend) did his knee before half-time which didn't help. They ran us to death" - Jack Charlton.

Clinical Nilis makes Irish pay in Belgium

Ireland v Belgium

World Cup 1998 playoff

Oct 29, 1997, 1st leg (h) 1-1 (Irwin)

Nov 15, second leg (a) 1-2 (Houghton)

(Ireland lose 3-2 on aggregate)

It started well when the home team, bereft of injured Roy Keane, took a first-half lead via a terrific free-kick by Denis Irwin. Striker Luc Nilis equalised for Belgium in the second-half.

In the second leg, Luis Oliveira opened the scoring for Belgium. Ray Houghton scored the sixth and last goal of his international career to level the scores.

Nilis later put Belgium 2-1 ahead and sub David Connolly was sent off with eight minutes left.

Ireland - First leg: Given; G Kelly, Cunningham, Staunton, Irwin; Houghton, Townsend (Carsley 74), Kennedy (Kenna 33) Harte; Connolly (Coyne 81), Cascarino.

Second leg: Given; Kenna, Staunton, Cunningham, Harte; G Kelly, Carsley, McLoughlin (Houghton 49), Townsend (D Kelly 85) Kennedy (Connolly 73); Cascarino.

Quote: "There were a few tears in there alright. From the older ones, because it was the last chance to get to the World Cup, and from the younger ones because they got so close. They might not get as close again, who knows?" - Ray Houghton.

A Turkey shoot-out on the Bosporus

Ireland v Turkey

Euro 2000 play-off

Nov 13, 1999 1st leg (h) 1-1 (Robbie Keane)

Nov 17, Bursa 2nd leg 0-0

(Ireland out on away goals)

Turkey scored the vital away goal in Dublin. Robbie Keane was out for the second leg due to two yellow cards and at the final whistle in Bursa, Tony Cascarino and some other players became embroiled in a punch-up.

Ireland - First leg: A Kelly (Kiely 61); Carr, Breen, Cunningham, Irwin; Delap (Duff 53), Carsley, Roy Keane, Kilbane; Cascarino (Connolly 75), Robbie Keane.

Second leg: Kiely; Carr (Kenna 6); Breen, Cunningham, Irwin; Delap, Roy Keane, Kinsella, Kilbane; Quinn, Connolly (Duff 69). Cascarino came on for Kenna (80).

Quote: "I do not expect my players to have to fight their way off the pitch after an international football match. It is disgraceful" - Mick McCarthy.

Fifth time lucky as Mick's men qualify

Ireland v Iran

World Cup 2002 play-off

Nov 10, 2001, 1st leg, (h) 2-0 (Harte pen, Robbie Keane)

Nov 15, 2nd leg, Tehran 0-1

(Irish qualify, agg 2-1)

Roy Keane played a key role in seeing the Irish through the first leg. Next day came news he had gone back to Manchester because a knee injury had stiffened up overnight. Mick McCarthy and Man Utd boss Alex Ferguson had agreed that Keane could miss Iran if the tie was cut and dried. At 2-0 McCarthy did not consider it over, but even without Roy, McCarthy's men rallied to the cause and earned their passage to Japan and Korea - and Saipan.

Ireland - First leg: Given; Finnan, Breen, Staunton (Cunningham 75), Harte; McAteer (G Kelly 84), Roy Keane, Holland, Kilbane; Robbie Keane, Quinn.

Second leg: Given; Finnan, Breen, Staunton, Harte; McAteer, Kinsella, Holland, Kilbane (G Kelly 80); Robbie Keane (Morrison 75), Connolly.

Quote: "I'm buzzing. We're all buzzing. We're going to the finals and it doesn't get any better than this. It was a great feeling to hear the whistle at the end of the game as so few of us have ever been to the World Cup before" - Shay Given.

Hand of Henry waves 'adieu' to Irish in Paris

Ireland v France

World Cup 2010 play-off

Nov 14, 2009 1st leg, Croke Park 0-1

Nov 18, Paris 2nd leg 1-1 (Keane) aet

(Ireland lose 2-1 on aggregate)

Nicolas Anelka snatched a crucial away goal in the first leg at Croke Park, but the Irish shocked the French by going on the offensive in Paris. Robbie Keane scored after 33 minutes and it was game on from there. This was the best performance by the team in years but they just could not carve out a second goal.

By the final whistle, it was all square on aggregate and extra time was required.

On 103 minutes, enter Thierry Henry and his cheating hand that knocked the ball across goal for William Gallas to score what proved to be the winner.

Referee Martin Hansson, from Sweden, and his linesmen saw nothing wrong with the goal, despite furious Irish protests.

The national outrage poured out via media and internet for days afterwards but there was no redress for the team or the fans.

Ireland - First leg: Given; O'Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Kilbane; Lawrence (Hunt 80), Andrews, Whelan, Duff (McGeady 76); Keane, Doyle (Best 70).

Second leg: Given; O'Shea (McShane 66), St Ledger, Dunne, Kilbane; Lawrence (McGeady 107), Whelan (Gibson 63), Andrews, Duff; Keane, Doyle.

Quote: "The whole world has seen what's happened, every man and his dog. I don't know what's going on behind the scenes. It's just a joke. The lads are devastated. It's reminiscent of Maradona in '86. We feel so cheated" - Damien Duff.

Trapattoni delivers a Euro 2012 promise

Ireland v Estonia

Euro 2012 play-off

Nov 11, 2011, 1st leg, Tallinn 4-0

(Keane 2, 1 pen, Andrews, Walters)

Nov 15, 2nd leg, (h) 1-1 (Ward)

(Ireland 5-1 on aggregate)

We could hardly have asked for better opposition and also had the advantage of playing the second leg at home. The boys did the business in style, with Robbie Keane on the mark with two, and Keith Andrews and Jon Walters providing the other goals.

If ever the fans could relax, it was on this occasion, but Estonia salvaged some pride by taking the lead at the Aviva Stadium. Stephen Ward saved our blushes and killed off the visitors by scoring the second goal of his international career.

Cue celebrations and badly needed joy for the country at a time when the gloom and doom of the banking crisis and recession was overwhelming.

Ireland - First leg: Given; S Kelly, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward; McGeady, Whelan (Fahey 78), Andrews, Duff (Hunt 73); Keane, Walters (Cox 83).

Second leg: Given; O'Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward; Hunt (McGeady 59), Whelan, Andrews, Duff (Fahey 79); Keane, (Cox 67) Doyle.

Quote: "It is amazing what football can do, what sport in general can do. The rugby lads gave the country a lift and now football can do it. Since we've been back from Tallinn the whole country seems to be buzzing. It's a massive vibe, like rolling back the years" - Robbie Keane

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