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Triumph and disaster


THE Republic of Ireland's history in major tournament play-offs is packed with incident, controversy and more disappointment than joy.

Spain, Holland, Belgium and Turkey have all triumphed over Irish teams, with only one success, against Iran, to our credit.

But the story of these encounters reveals some agonising near-misses and bad luck, as well as underlining how much this tiny country has achieved with limited playing resources.


November 10, 1965
Play-off: v Spain, Parc des Princes, Paris

Why were we there?

Syria were to have been in our group, but withdrew, leaving Spain and the Republic to fight it out. Ireland won 1-0 in Dalymount, but Spain won 4-1 in Seville and it was on to Paris for the play-off.

The player: John Giles

"Spain used to take teams to Seville because it was their lucky ground. It was also very intimidating.

"But the funny thing is, that when you're not too well organised, after the match, as soon as you come in, some players would say: 'Jeez, they weren't that good', but the match is over. It's too late then.

"Luckily enough we played Spain in Paris fairly soon afterwards, so we weren't as intimidated as we were in Seville. We ended up losing 1-0 in Paris, which was reasonable as we gave them a bit of a game."

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Match overview

Giles was being humble. The Irish were up against the 1964 European champions. Reports said Giles was "world class", Mick Meagan had "his greatest game for his country" and every Irish player gave his all.

French paper 'L'Equipe' summed up: "The Irish would have been just as worthy winners."

Turning point

Lion-hearted Theo Foley was just returning to the pitch after treatment when Jose Ufarte scored the killer goal with 10 minutes to go.

If only. . .

Spanish defender Ignacio Zoco hadn't got a touch to deflect Andy McEvoy's goal-bound shot in the first half. It was the best chance of the opening 45 minutes for either side.

Did you know?

Eamon Dunphy, then aged 20 and playing for York City, made his debut in the game to earn the first of 23 caps. Verdict: "A frail youngster whose game has not yet become attuned to the pace at which this game was played."

Match facts

Spain 1 (Ufarte, 80)
Rep of Ireland 0

Rep of Ireland: (2-3-5) -- Alan Kelly Snr (Preston); Shay Brennan (Man Utd), Tony Dunne (Man Utd); Theo Foley (Northampton T), Noel Cantwell (Man Utd), Mick Meagan (Huddersfield); Frank O'Neill (Shamrock R), Eamon Dunphy (York City), Andy McEvoy (Blackburn Rovers), John Giles (Leeds Utd), Joe Haverty (Shels).


December 13, 1995
Play-off: v Holland, Anfield.

Why were we there?

A great start to the group with four wins and a draw from the first five games, then a 0-0 draw away to Lichtenstein and a shock home defeat to Austria changed the picture. Eventually the Republic limped home, getting past Northern Ireland for second place on goal difference.

The player: Niall Quinn

"I was at Anfield with the lads, but I was suspended. I was gutted to miss it. From what I remember, I got booked in the first qualifying game and the last one, 15 months later, and that kept me out of the Holland match.

"Really, by then we were an old team and Holland had a new, young side, and we just didn't have what it took to beat them on the night. A bad memory for all of us who were there."

Match overview

Roy Keane and Steve Staunton were injured. Quinn was suspended. Andy Townsend was doubtful and lasted only 51 minutes. The Dutch dictated the pace with their smooth passing and inter-changing of positions.

Patrick Kluivert, their 19-year-old wonderkid, predicted before the game that Holland would win 2-0 and that he'd score one. In fact, he got the two goals. Goalkeeper Alan Kelly was the Irish hero, denying Holland six scoring chances, but he could do nothing to prevent the two goals.

At the end, Jack Charlton responded to Irish fans' calls to come out onto the pitch. He stood and waved and seemed slightly bemused by the accolades booming down from the stands. Eight days later he resigned.

Turning point

Kluivert's goal on the half-hour. The Dutch were strutting their stuff, but once they scored, it confirmed their confidence that this would be their night.

If only . . .

Tony Cascarino had equalised in the 61st minute from a cross by Jason McAteer. He was six yards out, but his glancing touch on the ball didn't bother Edwin Van Der Sar in the Dutch goal. And the Irish didn't get another chance like it.

Did you know?

Steve Staunton, then playing left-midfield, broke down in training on the Monday before the game. Jack Charlton was pondering a replacement while walking the streets of Chester. Terry Phelan was in the squad, and also out for a stroll.

Jack spotted Phelan, remembered that he had been 'Man of the Match' on the previous Saturday on his debut for Chelsea against Newcastle, and promptly decided to play him against Holland.

Match facts

Holland 2 (Kluivert 30, 88)
Republic of Ireland 0

Rep of Ireland: Alan Kelly (Sheffield Utd); Gary Kelly (Leeds Utd), Phil Babb (Liverpool), Paul McGrath (Aston Villa), Denis Irwin (Man Utd); Jeff Kenna (Blackburn Rovers), Andy Townsend (Aston Villa), John Sheridan (Sheffield Wednesday), Terry Phelan (Chelsea), John Aldridge (Tranmere Rovers), Tony Cascarino (Marseille). Subs: Jason McAteer (Liverpool) for Townsend (51); Alan Kernaghan (Man City) for Aldridge (73)


October 29 and November 16, 1997
Play-offs: v Belgium
First leg: Lansdowne Road. Second leg: Brussels.

Why were we there?

Romania romped home in the group, finishing 10 points ahead of second-placed Ireland, who edged out Lithuania by a single point.

The player: Kenny Cunningham

"A few of us were quite young and relatively new to the team, but we thought it was to our advantage to have the first leg at home. Belgium had some decent players and they were a big, strong side.

"We got the lead early on when Denis Irwin scored from a free, but the equaliser for them made a huge difference going into the second leg and they probably were the better side over the two games."

Match overview

A Denis Irwin seventh-minute goal from a free-kick at Lansdowne Road was a big boost to the Irish, but the Belgians were stronger in midfield and up front. Luc Nilis equalised in Dublin, and the feeling was the Irish had missed the boat.

That was confirmed in Brussels, despite Ray Houghton equalising after Luis Oliveira gave them the lead. Nilis had the last word, scoring the winner in the 68th minute.

David Connolly played in the first game, then came on as a 75th-minute sub for Mark Kennedy in Brussels. Just over seven minutes later he indulged himself in a reckless kick at an opponent and got sent off to add to the Irish misery.

Turning point

The Nilis goal in Dublin that gave Belgium the precious away goal.

If only . . .

Denis Irwin's late screamer at Lansdowne from another free-kick had hit the net. Mick McCarthy admitted it would have been an injustice if Irwin had got a second goal, but he would have loved a lead to take to Brussels.

Did you know?

The goal against Belgium was only the second Denis Irwin scored for Ireland in 47 appearances to that date. He eventually earned 56 caps and finished with four goals to his credit.

Match facts

Rep of Ireland 1 (Irwin 7)
Belgium 1 (Nilis 30)

Rep of Ireland: Shay Given (Newcastle Utd); Gary Kelly (Leeds Utd), Kenny Cunningham (Wimbledon), Steve Staunton (Aston Villa), Ian Harte (Leeds Utd); Ray Houghton (Reading), Andy Townsend (Middlesbrough), David Connolly (Feyenoord), Mark Kennedy (Liverpool); Tony Cascarino (Nancy). Subs: Jeff Kenna (Blackburn Rovers) for Kennedy (33); Lee Carsley (Derby County) for Townsend (74); Tommy Coyne (Motherwell) for Connolly (81).

Belgium 2 (Oliveira 25, Nilis 68)
Rep of Ireland 1 (Houghton 58)

Rep of Ireland: Given; Kenna, Cunningham, Staunton, Harte; Kelly, Carsley, Alan McLoughlin (Portsmouth), Townsend, Kennedy; Cascarino. Subs: Houghton for McLoughlin (49); Connolly for Kennedy (75); David Kelly (Tranmere Rovers) for Townsend (87) Sent off: Connolly (82)


November 13 and November 17, 1999
Play-offs: v Turkey
First leg: Lansdowne Road. Second leg: Bursa, Turkey

Why were we there?

In a word -- Macedonia. The Irish were heading for automatic qualification when they slipped up in Skopje in their last game, conceding an equaliser with 10 seconds remaining.

The player: Lee Carsley

"At the time I didn't think it was a penalty and I still hold that view. I was trying to get up after just blocking a shot when the ball broke off my chest and brushed against my arm.

"After the game, no one had a go at me. Mick McCarthy didn't question me, nor did the players. They were all supportive, but it hurt the following day to see my picture splashed all over the front pages of the papers and painted as a villain."

Match overview

Lee Carsley's comments related to the awful moment when he went for a tackle in the Irish penalty area and referee Anders Frisk -- years later embroiled in controversy with Chelsea -- awarded a penalty. It was the 83rd minute and just five minutes earlier Robbie Keane had given the Irish a sensational lead.

The penalty, scored by Tayfur Havutcu, stole the oxygen out of the Lansdowne Road atmosphere.

Irish players remember the nightmare trip to the city of Bursa for the second leg as a "planes, trains and boats" saga. And then it ended in tears and a brawl as Turkey drew 0-0 to go through on the away goals rule.

The flashpoint was a clash between a Turk and Tony Cascarino. Fans and officials joined in the attack before Irish reinforcements arrived. An untidy end to Cascarino's international career.

Turning point

The penalty against Carsley.

If only. . .

Robbie Keane hadn't been suspended for the second leg. Niall Quinn played with a back injury, Cascarino was past his sell-by date, and Connolly struggled.

Did you know?

Tony Cascarino later revealed that he wasn't qualified to play for Ireland, but he didn't find that out until years after he had become a regular in the squad.

Match facts

Rep of Ireland 1 (Robbie Keane 78)
Turkey 1 (Tayfur Havutcu 83)

Rep of Ireland: Alan Kelly (Blackburn Rovers); Stephen Carr (Spurs), Gary Breen (Coventry City), Kenny Cunningham (Wimbledon), Denis Irwin (Man Utd); Rory Delap (Derby County), Lee Carsley (Blackburn Rovers), Roy Keane (Man Utd), Kevin Kilbane (West Brom); Tony Cascarino (Nancy), Robbie Keane (Coventry City). Subs: Damien Duff (Blackburn Rovers) for Delap (55); Dean Kiely (Charlton Ath) for Kelly (60); David Connolly (Excelsior) for Cascarino (75).

Turkey 0
Republic of Ireland 0

(Turkey won on away goals)

Rep of Ireland: Kiely; Carr, Cunningham, Breen, Irwin; Delap, Kinsella (Charlton Athletic), Roy Keane, Kilbane; Quinn (Sunderland), Connolly. Subs: Jeff Kenna (Blackburn Rovers) for Carr (6); Duff for Connolly (70); Cascarino for Kenna (81)


November 10 and November 15, 2001
Play-offs: v Iran First leg: Lansdowne Road.
Second leg: Tehran

Why were we there?

No failure this time. McCarthy's men went unbeaten through the group -- and ousted Holland by a draw away and a win at home -- then finished joint top with Portugal. The Portuguese just had a better goal difference, hence the play-off route for Ireland.

The player: Niall Quinn

"My back was giving me problems, but I told Peter Reid, my manager at Sunderland, that I was fine because I was desperate to play. I managed to get through the first game, but I wasn't able to play in the second match.

"By this time I felt we'd learned our lessons from the other play-offs and we weren't going to let this one slip.

"The 100,000 crowd in Tehran, the fact that we didn't have Roy Keane in the second leg -- none of that bothered us. Nobody was going to stop us getting past Iran."

Match overview

Iran presented a red wall of bodies in defence of their goal in Dublin, but just before half-time Jason McAteer was fouled and Ian Harte scored the resulting penalty. In the second half, Robbie Keane's venomous strike after 51 minutes raised the roof and at 2-0 the Irish were in command.

Roy Keane left the squad before they headed out to Tehran on the Monday. Everyone knew he had a knee problem, but he had sounded hopeful after the match.

Seven hours before the second game, the stadium was packed with chanting, exuberant Iranian fans; but the Irish ground them down. By the time Golmohammadi nicked a 91st-minute goal for Iran, many had departed, knowing the Irish were bound for Japan and Korea.

Turning point

Shay Given's two saves from Iran's danger man Ali Karimi in Dublin. If Karimi had scored even one of them, it could have proved fatal.

If only . . .

Thankfully, no 'if onlys' this time.

Did you know?

Robbie Keane was only 21, but had already been transferred for a total of £31m (Wolves to Coventry; Coventry to Inter Milan; Inter to Leeds Utd) by the time he earned his 28th and 29th caps against Iran.

Match facts.

Rep of Ireland 2 (Harte 45, Keane 51)
Iran 0

Rep of Ireland: Shay Given (Newcastle Utd); Steve Finnan (Fulham), Gary Breen (Coventry City), Steve Staunton (Aston Villa), Ian Harte (Leeds Utd); Jason McAteer (Sunderland), Matt Holland (Ipswich Town), Roy Keane (Man Utd), Kevin Kilbane (Sunderland); Niall Quinn (Sunderland), Robbie Keane (Leeds Utd). Subs: Kenny Cunningham (Wimbledon) for Staunton (75); Gary Kelly (Leeds United) for McAteer (83)

Iran 1 (Golmohammadi 91)
Republic of Ireland 0

Rep of Ireland: Given; Finnan, Breen, Staunton, Harte; McAteer, Kinsella, Holland, Kilbane; David Connolly (F'noord), Robbie Keane. Subs: Morrison for Keane (75); Kelly (Leeds U) for Kilbane (81)

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