Tonight England...tomorrow the world
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Italia 90, we will be reliving all the action from that memorable World Cup
SUDDENLY, it's here ... the moment we thought would never come! It has been such a long time coming . . . years of sweat and tears, of brave defeats, of unbearable disappointments.
Now, in Ireland's finest sporting hour, it is difficult to remember them, but they were legion.
Tonight, Ireland will take her place among soccer's elite at the Sant Elia Stadium in remote Sardinia.
Nobody can deny that it is overdue. Nobody can deny that our recent record merits such a stage.
A country, which will come to a standstill at 8.0 p.m., owes a debt to honorary Irishman Jack Charlton and to his players who, though they may not be all of Ireland's sod, have never given anything less than 100 per cent effort in the green shirt.
And Charlton and his men will be amply repaid. Not in a monetary sense. But in the loyalty of the fans, their numbers swelling by the thousands in Cagliari.
Tonight, in Sardinia, they — players and supporters — will be united as one in The Great Adventure. Where it will lead we do not rightly know.
What we do know is that, in terms of professional preparation, in the skill of our players, in the astuteness of our manager, in the voices of our fans, we have nothing to fear from the rest of the world.
There is something special about playing England. Years of history and a near-century of being classed as inferior on the football field have made it so.
But no longer do we shoulder any inferiority complex. A 1-0 wins over the Oul Enemy on June 12, 1988, in Stuttgart, laid that ghost to rest. Now the English must fear us!
England manager Bobby Robson has always maintained that his side were desperately unlucky to lose to Ray Houghton's devastating goal.
Charlton, however, insists they are deluding themselves and believes that Ireland, unbeaten for 13 games, are even better than they were two years ago.
"Bobby made a great play about the fact that England dominated the game in Stuttgart and should have scored a lot of goals. I disagree," said Big Jack.
"I thought they only dominated in the last 20 minutes. If they had been one goal up, we would have dominated the finish. That's the way football is.
"Look at our record. We've only lost once in Spain since the European finals and that was when we had only half a team."
The psychological war between the two managers, with neither wanting to be the first to name their side, has increased the tension as the kick-off approaches.
Stephen Staunton was the most depressed man in the Irish camp last night after being told he wouldn't be in Ireland's starting line-up.
Chris Hughton will play at left-back but there wasn't any clues forthcoming from the camp about the make-up of the rest of the Irish defence.
The smart money, though, is on Dave O'Leary playing either in a central defensive partnership with Mick McCarthy or replacing Chris Morris on the right flank.
Otherwise, the team virtually picks itself, McGrath forming a midfield alliance with Andy Townsend with Houghton and Sheedy on the two flanks and Aldridge and Cascarino up front.
There's much more speculation about the English team. Will Paul Gascoigne keep his place in midfield? Will a tired-looking Chris Waddle play wide on the right? And who partners Gary Lineker up front?
Bobby Robson has banned all telephone calls to his players to stop the news getting out! The man's rattled.
Charlton, realist that he is, summed it up: "For all the hype in the world, the fact is we'll both send out 11 players and it’s only then that we will find out if, with all the preparation and work we've put in, we are good enough to beat England again or whether they are good enough to beat us."
The moment is almost upon us. You can feel it in the warm Cagliari air, the buzz and the excitement which no other happening could generate.
Once you woke up yesterday morning, you could just feel the charged atmosphere. It was a very special feeling. Who among us will not feel a lump in the throat at 8.0 tonight.
Tonight, England. Tomorrow, the world.