A millimetre. That was the difference between success and failure, between delight and despair, for Ireland at the 2002 World Cup finals.
he Sliding Door involved with penalties opened in Ireland's favour in Genoa in 1990, when Packie Bonner saved the kick from Daniel Timofte and then David O'Leary scored the key penalty. In 2002, it was Shay Given facing Gaizka Mendieta, only for the Spaniard to score.
"It missed my leg by a millimetre," Given would later recall. "By f*** all. These are the margins we talk about in sport. If my shinpad was a millimetre thicker, I'd have saved a penalty at a World Cup and given us a chance to go to sudden death and who knows what happens then?"
What happened next puzzles, even agonises, some of the Irish panel from 2002. What if they'd beaten Spain? Could they have accounted for Spain's opponents in the quarter-finals (South Korea) who needed the help of some terrible refereeing decisions to help them advance?
Or what about the semis, where South Korea faced Germany? Would Ireland already have the measure of the Germans from their group stage meeting and had the nous to get past a talented but ageing side and even, whisper it, get to the final?
Were those young Irish players appearing in their first World Cup finals (Duff, Keane, Given, Harte) about to peak, having overcome the many hurdles which came their way en route to Suwon? Was 2002 Ireland's best chance to make the last four or, whisper it, the final, of a major tournament?
"There's a lot of 'what if' moments in my career and that's one of the biggest ones," Given said. "A few years later, Spain are champions of Europe and World Cup winners and yet there was us, so close to knocking them out of the World Cup ourselves.
"Imagine the momentum and the confidence and the belief we could have got from beating them. Who knows where we could have ended up? It just wasn't meant to be."
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Given the trauma from the backdrop of Saipan, Ireland had done well to emerge from the group in 2002, score draws with Cameroon and Germany and a 3-0 win over a Saudi Arabia side already on the way home after 8-0 and 1-0 losses.
McCarthy's side had scored more goals (five) in their three group games in 2002 than Jack Charlton's men managed in nine games at the '90 and '94 tournaments.
Spain, drawn to face Ireland in the last 16, had won three from three, scoring nine times, in the group stage, albeit against moderate opposition (Slovenia, Paraguay and South Africa). Only Germany and Brazil scored more in the groups.
But after their 1-1 draw with Ireland, a tie they'd win on penalties, Spain wouldn't score again. It was a decent Spanish side but nowhere near the class of their 2008/2010 group.
The Spain game was more of the same from Ireland, conceding early (from Fernando Morientes) then a late rally plus equaliser (Robbie Keane's penalty), sending the tie to extra-time and penalties.
Fernando Hierro and Ruben Baraja scored theirs, but Robbie Keane was the only Irishman to score from the first three kicks (Matt Holland, David Connolly and Kevin Kilbane all missed), so even when Steve Finnan scored past Iker Casillas, Mendieta knew he would send Spain through.
It's a strike Given remembers as "a weak shot straight down the middle that dribbled over me and into the back of the net".
Years later, Mendieta recalled on a visit to Dublin that he's still known here for that goal. "It only happens if I meet an Irish guy but, yes, it still happens," he said. "For me, it was not my greatest penalty, I must say. It could have been better but it went in.
"It was one of the highlights of the World Cup and it was a very important penalty for us to get us through. Sadly, we were knocked out of that World Cup and, recently, everything came out about that and what happened."
Ah yes, Spain's own "what happened" moment. They had three goals in the quarter-final against South Korea disallowed, though it was no surprise to neutral observers to see decisions go South Korea's way, as Giovanni Trapattoni found out when managing Italy in the round of 16, and the Koreans would beat Spain in a shoot-out.
"Penalties are a lottery. We won last week and today we lost, we have been dumped out without losing a match," said Iker Casillas at the time.
Having overcome the Saipan saga, the Irish squad had done well enough but the scars remained. For some they were personal, Kilbane haunted by his missed penalty. "The agony of the miss will never go. No regrets? I'm not so sure," he recalled.
"The World Cup was the greatest experience I've ever had in football. Everything about it was exciting - the buzz, the fans, and the hype all made it so memorable, but losing on penalties was heartbreaking."
The mild consolation may be that Ireland were denied a place in the last eight by their own hand, rather than enduring the frustration which Italy and Spain endured. "We're not going to cry about it. There will be millions watching on television and I trust the professionalism of the referee," Giovanni Trapattoni, then Italy manager, said before their last-16 clash with the Koreans, a game where Italy were clearly robbed.
Trap smiled wryly when that Ecuadorian referee, Byron Moreno, was subsequently arrested at JFK airport for smuggling heroin.
Even as late as last year, the incident irked Trapattoni. In an interview for his 80th birthday, he was asked if there was one game in his career he'd like to have replayed. He didn't pick France-Ireland from 2009 but that Italy-South Korea tie.
"He committed a great injustice and hurt all of Italy. Thinking about it again, if there was a game that I'd play again then it would be Italy-Korea with a different referee."
Gamal Ghandour, the Egyptian referee who was in the middle for Spain's loss to the Koreans, never officiated at a senior international again, but the damage was done, Spain ousted, as South Korea advanced to the last four, losing to a German side who would (just about) win, Michael Ballack with a late goal to get Germany into a final that would be won by Brazil.
Ireland had played well against Spain, though not well enough to make the most of a one-man advantage (sub David Albelda had gone off injured). "We were on top for the first 15 minutes and looked likely winners," Kilbane recalled.
Maybe Ireland had their one and only dose of good luck when they were awarded a penalty late on, for a tug on Niall Quinn's shirt, that was converted by Robbie Keane.
Trapattoni and Jose Antonio Camacho were sure in 2002, and remained convinced later, that South Korea's progress was going to be aided by referees, so it's possible that Ireland would have suffered the same fate had they beaten Spain.
Losing to Spain may have been agony, but it got the pain out of the way a week early.
The real pain, for Ireland, would come later as the Euro 2004 qualifiers began with two defeats and McCarthy's resignation, the year of 2002 which held so much promise ending in acrimony.