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'At the end, I was crying': Eamon Dunphy's column after Ireland shocked Italy at Giants Stadium

'Ray Houghton burst forward from nowhere, took the ball on his chest, turned and lofted a curiously dipping shot over Pagliuca's head'

World Cup 1994: Ireland 1 Italy 0

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Once upon a time in

Once upon a time in

Once upon a time in

IRELAND can now truly consider themselves among the leading football nations of the world. We can play below our best and still beat Italy and beat them comfortably with a total of arrogance added at the end for good measure.

This was the greatest day in the history of Irish soccer. The Italians will remember it with shame. Never before in 12 previous first game appearances in the World Cup finals have Italy lost.

The nation that has won the tournament three times were beaten yesterday in every department of the game. Jack Charlton's team will now be considered serious contenders for the title. The Italians were demoralised early on but we never threw enough passes together to really capitalise on our psychological superiority.

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 The Republic of Ireland team who defeated Italy 1-0 at the 1994 World Cup at Giants Stadium, New Jersey, USA. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

The Republic of Ireland team who defeated Italy 1-0 at the 1994 World Cup at Giants Stadium, New Jersey, USA. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

The Republic of Ireland team who defeated Italy 1-0 at the 1994 World Cup at Giants Stadium, New Jersey, USA. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Roberto Baggio failed Italy as anticipated. On a couple of occasions, he and his striking partners were allowed a touch more space than they should have been. But they never looked like taking advantage of it.

Paolo Maldini thrust forward on a couple of occasions but Roy Keane matched him on the most critical of those. In all the most important areas of the field Ireland were more than matching their opponents.

The tackles were crisp, the posture, body language if you like, was confident, even a little condescending. We know we are a good side, we know we have reserves of courage and talent. There's plenty left in the tank, that was the message.

To watch this game was riveting. Even in the press box the hardened souls locked on anxiously, childlike wonder on their faces. Not just the Irish journalists but their English colleagues. They have taken a long time to be convinced about Ireland's real ability. One sensed during the opening half of yesterday's game that the agnostics of Fleet Street were converted at last.

Down on the field, heroes were emerging from what was still in many respects a scrappy encounter. Roy Keane ... controlled aggression. Terry Phelan ... poised, menacing, assured. Denis Irwin as laconic as ever. A true Cork man. In control. Packie Bonner also happily looked confident,

And everywhere else that one looked green shirts moved with swift purpose. John Sheridan was perhaps the exception in midfield. He looked a little frail, a little lost amid the extraordinary clamour of Giants Stadium.

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Ireland's Phil Babb, right, with Paul McGrath during the gam eagainst taly, Giants Stadium, New Jersey, USA. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Ireland's Phil Babb, right, with Paul McGrath during the gam eagainst taly, Giants Stadium, New Jersey, USA. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Ireland's Phil Babb, right, with Paul McGrath during the gam eagainst taly, Giants Stadium, New Jersey, USA. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Phil Babb and Paul McGrath were most magnificent of all. They had the testing challenge of suppressing Roberto Baggio and Signori. The game moved rather endlessly towards half-time. It was clear that the Italians had no real stomach for this contest. It was also clear that Ireland were perhaps surprised by how easily they were dominating their opponents. The Irish were failing to ram home the advantage.

Above everything in this opening 45 minutes, the presence, towering and elegant of Paul McGrath. What a footballer this man is. What a man this man is. They have been saying that he is injured, not as fit as he should be, or could be.

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Paul McGrath against Italy in USA 94

Paul McGrath against Italy in USA 94

Paul McGrath against Italy in USA 94

He has trained very sloppily these past two weeks or so word from the camp would have it. Yet, this day he played so majestically as to be barely believable. It was he who stood out as the symbol of Irish superiority.

A little flick here, an insolent nudge there. Poise. A man who wasn't worried. Swift when you had to be. Calm when everyone else needed him to be. Any Irish player who harboured any doubts only had to look in McGrath's direction.

The extraordinary emotion of the moment when the national anthems were played cannot be separated from the game that followed. The Irish sang lustily, the team clearly heard and responded with waves. The Italians in the crowd and on the pitch were very subdued indeed. We wondered if there were any Italians in this stadium so magnificently bedecked with the Irish Tricolour.

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Ireland supporters celebrate following the FIFA World Cup 1994 Group E match against Italy at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, USA. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Ireland supporters celebrate following the FIFA World Cup 1994 Group E match against Italy at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, USA. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Ireland supporters celebrate following the FIFA World Cup 1994 Group E match against Italy at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, USA. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Yesterday morning the Italian daily sporting newspaper, La Gazzetta Dello Sport,sent a message from the people to the players. 'Make us love you, Italy'. The Irish players never needed to ask for love.

The football began in an Irish stadium, and immediately Ireland moved forward purposely. The attitude was right. Most evidently you can see in Roy Keane's unrelenting aggression the mood of this team.

In the opening minute, Denis Irwin knocked a long ball forward towards Tommy Coyne. The great Italian defender Franco Baresi, usually so assured, flailed desperately to clear as far as Steve Staunton who swung uninhibitedly to crash the ball wide. The opening moment was symbolic. Baresi was afraid, Staunton was alive.

For the next 10 minutes nothing very significant happened. The football was tentative on both sides. Yes, the Irish tackled with more determination and seemed buoyed by the constant cheering of the crowd. And it was their crowd.

Then after 11 minutes, the magical moment. Another long ball forward, another uncertain Baresi header seemed to hang in the air twenty yards from goal.

Ray Houghton driven on, his pride at being back in the team giving extra momentum to his surge, burst forward seemingly from nowhere. He took the ball on his chest, turned and lofted a curiously dipping shot over Pagliuca's head.

Unbelievably we were ahead. It was hardly deserved in footballing terms, but it told you something about the mood of the Irish in this stadium, the Irish on the field and the 50,000 who had come to celebrate.

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Terry Phelan and Ray Houghton celebrating in the Giants Stadium in 1994. Photo: Billy Strickland/Allsport

Terry Phelan and Ray Houghton celebrating in the Giants Stadium in 1994. Photo: Billy Strickland/Allsport

Terry Phelan and Ray Houghton celebrating in the Giants Stadium in 1994. Photo: Billy Strickland/Allsport

Italy desperately needed a hero. Roberto Baggio was the man they looked to. Baggio flitted in and out of the game never very convincingly.

The second half was a different, even more extraordinary story. The Italians had to push forward in search of an equaliser. Prompted with ever increasing urgency by their great defenders Maldini and Baresi, the Italians had a go.

Eleven minutes into the second half, John Sheridan allowed Dino Baggio to slip away from him. Baggio might have done better than drive over the crossbar from 20 yards.

Ireland now began to string their passes together. Confidence was growing. The crowd, at least 50,000 of the 74,000 present, must have been Irish, were singing and cheering, beginning to celebrate long before the end.

They were right. We could all see that the Italians were utterly defeated long before the end. There were moments, poetic almost, that told us this. An Irwin tackle on Baggio, the Irishman coming away with the ball, a touch of arrogance about him. Baggio stood still, arms limply by his body.

The most profound of all Irish moments yesterday afternoon. Houghton's magic goal apart, came in the 64th minute when Signori broke free of the Irish defence on the left hand side of the penalty area. The little Italian struck a fierce shot that was headed for the top corner of the net. Then Packie Bonner flew as if winged to deflect the ball high and wide and away from danger.

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Packie Bonner of Republic of Ireland celebrates following Ireland's victory during their FIFA World Cup 1994 Group E match against Italy at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, USA. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Packie Bonner of Republic of Ireland celebrates following Ireland's victory during their FIFA World Cup 1994 Group E match against Italy at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, USA. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Packie Bonner of Republic of Ireland celebrates following Ireland's victory during their FIFA World Cup 1994 Group E match against Italy at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, USA. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Bonner has been written off, a veteran like Paul McGrath. How extraordinarily moving to see him confound those of us who thought him passed his best. Any goalkeeper in the world at his best would have been proud of that save. In every other respect, Bonner's work yesterday afternoon was immaculate. His legend lives on, indeed it might yet grow.

Ireland were about to make a substitution in the 67th minute when Irwin and Coyne set up a chance, make that a half chance, for Ray Houghton, whose rasping shots was desperately potted away by Pagliuca.

Houghton left the field to massive acclaim. Jason McAteer replaced the hero of the day. McAteer brought with him into this tense arena the vitality, the brio of his youth. Yesterday was his birthday. Jason is 23.

After he came on Ireland's game acquired a splendid new dimension. We were now confident, arrogant, stroking the ball from green shirt to green shirt and everywhere pleasure in possession.

Stephen Staunton was another of the afternoon's heroes. He played superbly on the left hand side of midfield. Staunton was noticeably relaxed.

Another symbolic clash this time between McAteer and Baggio, 12 minutes from time ended with the young Irishman sprinting away with the ball in his possession. This Irish crowd roared their approval. They sensed correctly that something special was happening.

The last ten minutes of this game almost defied description Ireland was so superior. Every touch, every move drew a roar deep from the soul of the Irish crowd, and an Irish crowd it truly was. If there were any Italians in the stadium they sat in silent despair. They shouldn't be so ashamed.

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Ireland manager Jack Charlton splashes water on Tommy Coyne, 15, and Andy Townsend during the FIFA World Cup 1994 Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Italy at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, USA. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Ireland manager Jack Charlton splashes water on Tommy Coyne, 15, and Andy Townsend during the FIFA World Cup 1994 Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Italy at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, USA. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Ireland manager Jack Charlton splashes water on Tommy Coyne, 15, and Andy Townsend during the FIFA World Cup 1994 Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Italy at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, USA. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

On this day Jack Charlton's team reached a new peak of confidence and authority. If you take the first half into account we might have done even better. But we still should have won by three clear goals.

In the 72nd minute Townsend and Staunton exchanged passes with Keane before the latter broke through the hapless Italian back four to set up John Sheridan at the penalty spot.

Sheridan took aim, his slightly mis-hit shot thundering against the crossbar. A few moments later Andy Townsend might have scored with a far post header.

It is impossible to say what effect this victory will have on the Irish team. Perhaps before they felt they were among the best sides in the world. Now they must surely know that few if any will beat them. They sent a signal to all others in the dying minutes of this game. They were comfortably in control enjoying what other lesser men would consider an ordeal, the ordeal of facing Italy.

When the final whistle blew the ground erupted. Joy such as this can rarely have been seen. And in the press box men buried vendettas that were years old to embrace each other. Looking around I saw several Irish journalists in tears. Charlie Stuart from the press, dear old Charlie. He's laboured on this road for many years, seeing Ireland on the worst days, and some that were even worse than that. At the end Charlie was crying and so was I.

Their English colleague stood in awe. They thought they knew these Irish players for they see them playing for their clubs every week. Then they seem mere mortals. Yesterday wearing in green they were Gods.

Republic of Ireland: 1 Packie Bonner (Glasgow Celtic), 2 Denis Irwin (Manchester United), 3 Terry Phelan (Manchester City), 5 Paul McGrath (Aston Villa), 11 Steve Staunton (Aston Villa), 14 Phil Babb (Coventry City), 6 Roy Keane (Manchester United), 7 Andy Townsend (capt) (Aston Villa), 8 Ray Houghton (Aston Villa), 10 John Sheridan (Sheffield Wednesday) 15 Tommy Coyne (Motherwell)

Goals: Houghton 12'

Booked: Phelan 30', Coyne 50', Irwin 80'

Subs: 21 Jason McAteer 67' (Bolton Wanderers) for Houghton, 9 John Aldridge 90' (Tranmere Rovers) for Coyne

Italy: Gianluca Pagliuca, Alessandro Costacurta, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi (capt), Mauro Tassotti, Demetrio Albertini, Dino Baggio, Roberto Donadoni, Alberigo Evani, Roberto Baggio, Giuseppe Signori.

Booked: De Agostini 36' Subs: Danielle Massaro 46' for Evani, Nicola Beti 84' for Signori.

Referee: Mario van der Ede (Netherlands)

Venue: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

Attendance: 75,338


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