Sport World Cup

Monday 18 November 2019

Squeaky bum time looms again for jittery Ireland

A dejected Shane Long leaves the pitch after the Group D defeat to Serbia. Photo: Brendan Moran
A dejected Shane Long leaves the pitch after the Group D defeat to Serbia. Photo: Brendan Moran

Colin Young

The Republic of Ireland never do it the easy way. Well, not for a long time anyway. Not since the early years of the Jack Charlton era have Ireland managed to steer through the tricky waters of qualification and not had to rely on the play-offs to reach the finals.

They still have to negotiate two more matches to reach the World Cup 2018 play-offs - and then hope the maths work out to grab one of the eight places.

That is a problem for another day. For now, Ireland must beat Moldova at home, and then do the same in Cardiff against Wales - providing Wales beat Georgia in their penultimate game.

The Irish record is mixed in the final qualifying match from the last 16 campaigns. Since missing out on the European Championships of 1986 under Eoin Hand, Ireland have had nine must-win games, won five, drawn one and lost three - although they qualified for the play-offs from two of those defeats.

When it mattered under Charlton, they produced, winning the final qualifiers before Euro '88 and Italia '90, and also winning in Turkey in the 1992 European Championships campaign, only to miss out to England. Only one team qualified.

Since play-offs were introduced, they have reached seven, winning three and losing four.

And when they needed to win in 2001 under Mick McCarthy, having seen off the Dutch in that memorable Lansdowne win, they went to Cyprus a month later and secured the victory. They had similar success over Armenia when it mattered 10 years later under Giovanni Trapattoni.

There have been major disappointments too, most notably against Switzerland under Brian Kerr. His two campaigns ended with two lacklustre performances and the Swiss went on to qualify for Euro 2004 and the World Cup finals in Germany two years later.

The good news is that only three times since Charlton quit in 1995 have Ireland gone into the final game knowing it is irrelevant. That includes the Euro 2012 campaign under Trapattoni when the play-off place was already sealed before the game at home to Kazakhstan, which they won 3-1.

The most pointless game of all in this time? Wales away. When Ireland went into the last Euro 2008 game in Cardiff, both sides knew it didn't matter. It ended 2-2.

At least there is no danger of that happening to the two teams this time. Or is there?

Countdown to Cardiff

Martin O’Neill’s side seemed set on the road to Russia before it all went horribly wrong. With our progress now hanging by a thread, we look back at the climax of previous qualification campaigns


November 13, 1985: Ireland 1 (Stapleton) Denmark 4 (Elkjaer 2, M Laudrup, Sivebaek)

Team: McDonagh, Moran, Lawrenson, O’Leary, Beglin, Grealish (Byrne), McGrath, Brady, Sheedy (Robinson), Cascarino, Stapleton.

A disastrous campaign under Eoin Hand ended with defeats to Russia and Denmark, who both qualified with ease for the finals in Mexico. Just 12,000 turned up at Lansdowne Road to see the impressive young Danes tear Ireland apart. One observer at the Mexico finals would be Jack Charlton, who was to go on to revolutionise Irish and international football when he took over for the next qualifiers.

EURO ’88

October 14, 1987: Ireland 2 (McGrath, Moran) Bulgaria 0

Team: Bonner, McGrath, Moran, McCarthy, Whelan, Houghton, Brady, Lawrenson, Stapleton, Galvin (Byrne), Aldridge (Quinn).

Ireland needed to win their final qualifier to have a chance of clinching top spot and they beat nearest rivals Bulgaria thanks to second-half goals from Paul McGrath and Kevin Moran. Liam Brady was sent off in the dying minutes, which meant he was suspended for the opening games of the finals. Bulgaria only needed a point from their final game the following month. Gary Mackay’s winning goal for Scotland in Sofia secured Ireland’s first place in a major finals. Jack Charlton, on a fishing trip in Shropshire, only found out after an English journalist tracked him down and asked for a reaction. Celtic’s Packie Bonner was at Glasgow Airport with a bottle of champagne for Hearts man Mackay on his return from Sofia.


November 15, 1989: Malta 0 Ireland 2 (Aldridge 2, one pen)

Team: Bonner, McGrath, O’Leary, Moran (Morris), Staunton, Houghton, Whelan, Townsend, Sheedy, Aldridge, Cascarino.

This campaign included an impressive 1-0 home win over Group 6 winners Spain, a victory over Northern Ireland at Lansdowne Road, and a goalless draw at Windsor Park.

Although rivals Hungary had to travel to Seville for their final game and win to beat Charlton’s men to the runners-up spot, Ireland still needed to go to Malta and win. They triumphed in the Ta’ Qali Stadium in Attard, thanks to two goals from John Aldridge. Hungary lost 4-0, Ireland reached their first ever World Cup finals, and thousands of travelling Irish fans had a party in Malta — with the players and manager joining in.

EURO ’92

November 13, 1991: Turkey 1 (Calimbay) Ireland 3 (Byrne 2, Cascarino)

Team: Bonner, Hughton, O’Leary, McCarthy, Phelan, Staunton, McGrath,

J Byrne, Sheedy, Cascarino, Aldridge.

Arguably one of the best Ireland teams to be assembled failed to qualify for the country’s third successive finals, despite an excellent final win in a tricky group. Ireland won 3-1 in Istanbul, with John Byrne scoring a rare double and Tony Cascarino adding the third. During the game, Turkey’s coach, Josef Piontek, had given Jack Charlton the impression England were losing in Poland. It turned out that Gary Lineker had scored a late equaliser in Poznan, securing a place in the finals for Graham Taylor’s side. Ireland may have won their final group game but the damage was done earlier in the campaign with four draws against England and Poland.


November 17, 1993: Northern Ireland 1 (Jimmy Quinn) Ireland 1 (McLoughlin)

Team: Bonner, Irwin, Kernaghan, McGrath, Phelan, Houghton (McLoughlin), Roy Keane, Townsend, E McGoldrick, N Quinn, Aldridge (Cascarino).

This turned out to be one of the greatest nights of the Charlton era. Ireland needed a point in Windsor Park to clinch a place at the World Cup finals having lost the previous month at home to Spain. With no away fans in the Belfast ground, Charlton and his players had to perform and produce in a cauldron of hate. Charlton and his opposite number, Billy Bingham, who had ramped up animosity before the game, clashed during and after the bruising encounter. Jimmy Quinn put the home side ahead before substitute Alan McLoughlin’s 76th-minute strike secured a place in the US and the start of another incredible adventure. Amazingly, despite their falling-out, Charlton was asked to make a presentation to Bingham afterwards.

EURO ’96

November 15, 1995: Portugal 3 (Rui Costa, Helder, Cadete) Ireland 0

Team: A Kelly, G Kelly, Babb, McGrath, Irwin, Kenna, McAteer, Kennedy (Cascarino), Staunton (Kernaghan), Quinn, Aldridge.

This group decider in Lisbon proved beyond an Ireland side which blew qualification in the early phase of the group with the infamous goalless draw in Liechtenstein and the shocking 3-1 home defeat to Austria, famous for the pre-match visit to Harry Ramsden’s. Portugal, who had also dropped points in the campaign, won easily thanks to goals from Rui Costa, Helder and Cadete, leaving Ireland in a play-off against the Netherlands at Anfield.


December 13: Ireland 0 Netherlands 2 (Kluivert 2)

Team: A Kelly, G Kelly, McGrath, Babb, Irwin, Kenna, Townsend (McAteer), Sheridan, Phelan, Aldridge (Kernaghan), Cascarino.

The Charlton era ended in defeat and tears at Anfield as Patrick Kluivert destroyed Ireland, scoring after half an hour and again in the final minute. A reluctant Charlton was persuaded by police to go back onto the pitch where he and assistant Maurice Setters were serenaded by Irish supporters. A few days later, a month short of a decade in charge, Charlton resigned.


October 11, 1997: Ireland 1 (Cascarino) Romania 1 (Hagi)

Team: A Kelly, Kenna, Breen, Babb, Phelan (Fleming), McAteer, Carsley, Houghton, McLoughlin (D Kelly), Kennedy, Cascarino (Evans).

Mick McCarthy’s first campaign was to end in a play-off defeat but a new-look and evolving Ireland team still needed a point against Romania to clinch second place to the runaway group winners. Gheorghe Hagi put the visitors in front on a tense night in Dublin before Tony Cascarino bundled home an equaliser seven minutes from time to set up a two-legged play-off with Belgium.


October 29: Ireland 1 (Irwin) Belgium 1 (Nilis)

Team: Given, Irwin, Cunningham, Staunton, Harte, G Kelly, Townsend (Carsley), Houghton, Kennedy (Kenna), Connolly (Coyne), Cascarino.

November 15: Belgium 2 (Oliveira, Nilis), Ireland 1 (Houghton)

Team: Given, Kenna, Staunton, Cunningham, Harte, G Kelly, Carsley, Townsend (D Kelly), McLoughlin (Houghton), Kennedy (Connolly), Cascarino.

Most remembered for David Connolly’s late dismissal as the second leg and qualification slipped from Ireland’s grasp. Ireland were without Roy Keane for both games and despite an excellent start with Denis Irwin’s early goal in the first leg, faced a difficult task in Brussels a month later after Luc Nilis scored a vital away goal. They fell behind after 25 minutes of the second leg when Luis Oliveria scored but substitute Ray Houghton cancelled out the away-goal advantage. Nilis struck again with 20 minutes to go before Connolly was sent off as Ireland chased the equaliser which would have taken them to France.

EURO 2000

October 9, 1999: Macedonia 1 (Stavrevski) Ireland 1 (Quinn)

Team: A Kelly, Irwin, Breen, Cunningham, Staunton, G Kelly, Kinsella, McLoughlin, Kennedy (Holland), Quinn (Cascarino), Robbie Keane (O’Neill).

Goran Stavrevski. The name of the man who denied Ireland an automatic place in Belgium and Netherlands with his devastating 90th-minute header from a corner. Ahead through Niall Quinn’s early goal, if Ireland had held on they would have finished top of a group which had been beset by difficulties due to the Balkans conflict. At the same time as Ireland were blowing it in Skopje, Yugoslavia were drawing 2-2 with Croatia. That point secured top spot in Yugoslavia’s last campaign, leaving Ireland in another play-off.


November 13: Ireland 1 (Robbie Keane) Turkey 1 (Havutcu)

Team: A Kelly (Kiely), Carr, Breen, Cunningham, Irwin, Delap (Duff), Roy Keane, Carsley, Kilbane, Cascarino (Connolly), Robbie Keane.

November 17: Turkey 0 Ireland 0

Team: Kiely, Carr (Kenna), Breen, Cunningham, Irwin, Delap, Roy Keane, Kinsella, Kilbane, Quinn, Connolly (Duff) (Cascarino).

Ireland went out on away goals thanks to a late penalty from Tayfur Havutcu in the first leg after Robbie Keane had given the home side a 79th-minute lead. The second leg four days later followed a tortuous journey to Bursa. Beset by injuries on the night to Stephen Carr and Damien Duff, Ireland were unable to break down a stubborn Turkey. The night ended with a brawl involving Tony Cascarino in his last Ireland appearance.


October 6, 2001: Ireland 4 (Harte, Quinn, Connolly, Roy Keane) Cyprus 0

Team: Given, Finnan, Breen, Staunton, Harte, Kennedy (Carsley), Roy Keane, Holland, Kilbane (McPhail), Connolly, Quinn (Morrison).

The win over the Netherlands with Jason McAteer’s goal and Roy Keane’s handshake with Mick McCarthy may have been the defining moment of this campaign, but Ireland still had a job to do the following month. They went into the final game with a chance of winning the group but needed Estonia to draw with Portugal or score seven more goals than their rivals. Portugal won 5-0 while Ireland took their unbeaten run to 15 in a comfortable win, notable for Niall Quinn scoring a then record 21st Ireland goal. The Dutch beat Andorra 4-0 and missed out by a point, leaving Ireland to face the winners of the Asian play-off between Iran and UAE.

Intercontinental Play-off

November 10: Ireland 2 (Harte pen, Robbie Keane) Iran 0

Team: Given, Finnan, Breen, Staunton (Cunningham), Harte, McAteer (G Kelly), Roy Keane, Holland, Kilbane, Quinn, Robbie Keane.

November 15: Iran 1 (Golmohammadi) Ireland 0

Team: Given, Finnan, Breen, Staunton, Harte, McAteer, Kinsella, Holland, Kilbane (G Kelly), Connolly, Robbie Keane (Morrison).

Play-off success and a finals qualification at last for McCarthy thanks to victory over Iran. Goals from Ian Harte and Robbie Keane — and two world-class saves from Shay Given — gave them a two-goal cushion to defend in Tehran. More than 100,000 supporters turned out for that second leg, attacking the brilliant Given with fireworks. Yahya Golmohammadi scored in the last minute but Ireland held on to reach their third World Cup finals.

EURO 2004

October 11, 2003: Switzerland 2 (Yakin, Frei) Ireland 0

Team: Given, Carr, O’Shea, Breen, Harte, Kilbane (Finnan), Healy, Holland (Kinsella), Duff, Connolly (Morrison), Robbie Keane.

Suffering the hangover of Saipan, Mick McCarthy was gone after losing the first two qualifying games and Brian Kerr was unable to inspire a complete recovery to reach the finals in Portugal. Unable to catch Russia, Ireland did go into the final game knowing a win in Basle would secure a play-off place. Switzerland were excellent but it was a lacklustre Ireland performance, which summed up a miserable campaign.


October 12, 2005: Ireland 0 Switzerland 0

Team: Given, Carr, Cunningham, Dunne, Harte, A Reid (S Reid), Holland, O’Shea, Kilbane, Morrison (Doherty), Robbie Keane (Elliott).

Brian Kerr will not have fond memories of Switzerland — nor the fateful night in Tel Aviv where Ireland’s chances of reaching South Africa suffered a costly setback. They conceded a last-minute goal, and if they had held on that night, they could have won the group. Four days before Ireland’s final game Israel beat Faroe Islands to reach 18 points. That meant victory over Switzerland at a sold-out Lansdowne Road would secure second place behind France. The home side missed one early chance but then hardly troubled Pascal Zuberbuhler and Shay Given pulled off the save of the night. They eventually finished in fourth, below Israel, leading to Kerr’s exit.

EURO 2008

November 17, 2007: Wales 2 (Koumas 2) Ireland 2 (Robbie Keane, Doyle)

Team: Given, Finnan, McShane, O’Shea, Kilbane, A Reid (Potter), Carsley, Miller (Hunt), McGeady, Doyle, Robbie Keane.

Steve Staunton’s brief tenure had already ended by the time Ireland travelled for a pointless game in Cardiff, the damage done earlier in the campaign, mainly against Cyprus. Don Givens was in charge for the final match which Ireland led through goals from Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle until Jason Koumas equalised in the last minute from the penalty spot.


October 14, 2009: Ireland 0 Montenegro 0

Team: Given, McShane, St Ledger, Dunne, Kilbane, S Hunt (Keogh), Rowland (O’Shea), Miller, Duff, N Hunt (Best), Robbie Keane.

A play-off place was already secure before the final group game, most notable as the night Shay Given and Kevin Kilbane earned their 100th caps. Ireland were unable to break down Montenegro at Croke Park and Giovanni Trapattoni’s side ended the group unbeaten but with six draws. They finished in the play-off places, behind Italy.


November 14: Ireland 0 France 1 (Anelka)

Team: Given, O’Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Kilbane, Lawrence (McGeady), Whelan, Andrews, Duff (S Hunt), Doyle (Best), Robbie Keane.

November 18: France 1 (Gallas) Ireland 1 (Robbie Keane) (AET)

Team: Given, St Ledger, O’Shea (McShane), Dunne, Kilbane, Lawrence (McGeady), Andrews, Whelan (Gibson), Duff, Doyle, Robbie Keane.

One of the most controversial games — which gained worldwide notoriety — in Irish history and one of the biggest disappointments. Trapattoni’s side lost the first leg at Croke Park thanks to Nicolas Anelka’s goal but drew level in the Stade de France through Robbie Keane to take the game to extra-time. However, their hopes of reaching the finals in South Africa were ended by William Gallas’s winner. Thierry Henry clearly handled the ball in the build-up but the offence was missed by referee Martin Hansson and his officials.

EURO 2012

October 11, 2011: Ireland 2 (Aleksanyan og, Dunne) Armenia 1 (Mkhitaryan)

Team: Given, O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger,

S Kelly, McGeady (S. Hunt), Whelan (Fahey), Andrews, Duff, Doyle, Cox (Walters)

Ireland secured a play-off slot with a tense win over Armenia, who needed an unlikely victory to move into second place. Although the home side endured a nervy finish after Kevin Doyle’s late dismissal, they moved into a two-goal lead before the hour after keeper Roman Berezovski was sent off. Goals came from defenders Valeri Aleksanyan and Richard Dunne. Henrik Mkhitaryan scored for the visitors.


November 11: Estonia 0 Ireland 4 (Andrews, Walters, Robbie Keane 2)

Team: Given, S Kelly, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward, McGeady, Andrews, Whelan (Fahey), Duff (S Hunt), Walters (Cox), Robbie Keane.

November 15: Ireland 1 (Ward) Estonia 1 (Vassiljev)

Team: Given, St Ledger, O’Shea, Dunne, Ward, S Hunt (McGeady), Whelan, Andrews, Duff (Fahey), Doyle, Robbie Keane (Cox).

For once the job was done in the play-off first leg. Ireland won convincingly against nine men in Tallinn, going ahead through Keith Andrews and Jonathan Walters before Robbie Keane scored a brace. They played out a 1-1 draw on a party night in Dublin and started making plans for Poland.


October 15, 2013: Ireland 3 (Robbie Keane, O’Shea, Shomko og) Kazakhstan 1 (Shomko)

Team: Forde, Coleman, O’Shea, Dunne, Wilson, Gibson (Whelan), McCarthy, Doyle, A Reid, (McGeady), Stokes (Hoolahan), Robbie Keane.

Another disappointing qualifying campaign. Trapattoni was long gone and Noel King in charge by the time Ireland faced Kazakhstan in front of a small crowd at the Aviva. King recalled Andy Reid for his first game in seven years and he helped Ireland secure a comfortable win. But their failure to beat any of the main rivals in the group ended any chance of reaching Brazil and they finished fourth behind Germany, Sweden and Austria.

EURO 2016

October 15, 2015: Poland 2 (Krychowiak, Lewandowski) Ireland 1 (Walters pen)

Team: Randolph, Coleman, O’Shea, Keogh, Brady, Hendrick, Whelan (McGeady), McCarthy, McClean (Hoolahan), Walters, Long (Robbie Keane)

Ireland needed a win or a 2-2 draw to claim the automatic qualification place behind Germany. Poland won this final group showdown in Warsaw and Ireland fell one goal short, leaving them in third place and at the mercy of the play-offs yet again. Grzegorz Krychowiak gave the home side the lead before Jonathan Walters scored a controversial penalty. In-form Robert Lewandowski’s firm header sealed the game although an agonising Richard Keogh miss denied Martin O’Neill a decisive point.


November 13: Bosnia & Herzegovina 1 (Dzeko) Ireland 1 (Brady)

Team: Randolph, Coleman, Keogh, Clark, Ward (Wilson), Hendrick, Whelan, McCarthy, Brady (McGeady), Hoolahan (McClean), Murphy.

November 16: Ireland 2 (Walters 2)

Bosnia & Herzegovina 0

Team: Randolph, Coleman, Keogh, Clark, Brady, Hendrick, Whelan (O’Shea), McCarthy, Hoolahan (McClean), Walters, Murphy (Long).

Robbie Brady’s crucial 82nd-minute away goal in the thick fog in Sarajevo meant Ireland faced a talented Bosnia team in good shape. Edin Dzeko quickly cancelled out Brady’s goal but the striker was unable to inspire his team in Dublin. Ireland soaked up pressure in the second leg

and two goals from Jonathan Walters either side of half-time put Ireland in  the finals in France.

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