World Cup 1994: Ireland 0 Norway 0
TRUE grit. Bottle. Character. Call it what you like. This Irish team has it in abundance.
The stakes couldn't have been higher when they entered the Giants Stadium coliseum to face Norway yesterday.
It was time to stand up and be counted. Do the business or get off the stage.
Ninety spell-binding minutes later the scoreboard told the story: Ireland 0, Norway 0.
The Jack Charlton bandwagon rolls on back to Orlando for an Independence Day second round showdown with Belgium, Holland or Saudi Arabia next Monday, while Norway are on their way home.
Belgium will be our opponents if they beat or draw with the Saudis today; if Belgium lose arid Holland win, either the Dutch or the Saudis will play Ireland, depending on who scores the more goals (the Arabs have an advantage of one at the moment).
The victory against Italy was brilliant but this performance, in many ways, was even more. gratifying. This was an ice-cool, nerveless display to compare with anything any Irish football team has done before.
The game could be divided into three distinct parts.
Ireland dominated the first-half but couldn't-break down the stubborn, physical resistance of their opponents.
When Norway came out to play in the second half, Ireland were forced on to the back-fool but weathered the storm.
Put their feet up
And, finally, there was one last Irish heave in the final 12 minutes when they threw away the manacles and came within a whisker of a most deserving win. Has a draw ever seemed so sweet?
The Irish team will return to Orlando tomorrow. Today they are entitled to put heir feet up, relax and reflect on a most satisfying day's work at the office.
A scan at the final group E table reveals just' how close it was in the end. Four teams -on four points, each with an identical goal difference. As tight as a miser's fist, only tighter.
Mexico, who came from behind to equalise against Italy in Washington yesterday; go through as group winners because they scored more goals, three, than anyone else.
Ireland and Italy tied on everything, points, goals but, crucially, Ireland's win over Italy, was the final dividing line.
While Italy wait to find their last 16 fate, Norway, who began with a win, are out. Incredibly, four points was not enough. In other groups, teams with three points will go through.
That's how the cookie crumbles.
Something had to give but it certainly wasn't the resolve of the fighting Irish. To a man, they dug into the trenches of their spirit, to ensure qualification for the last 16. It was reminiscent of Copenhagen and Seville. Only better.
They were all heroes but none more so than Packie Bonner, Paul McGrath, John Sheridan, Ray Houghton, Roy Keane and the young tyros, Phil Babb, Gary Kelly and Jason McAteer.
John Aldridge ran his legs to stumps for an hour, Andy Townsend had a strong spell in the first half before taking a knock on the knee, while Steve Staunton, if not fully himself on his 50th appearance, never stopped battling.
It is never easy going into a game knowing that a draw will do to achieve your aim. Show me a manager who plays for a draw and I'll show you a loser.
Ireland certainly went out with both barrels loaded. They went for the jugular and Norway were forced to seek shelter in their fjords.
It was an absorbing duel. Inspired by the 'Famous Five' in midfield, Ireland probed for the crucial opening.
They were prepared to knock the ball from one wing to the other, playing it to feet, as Norway threw a protective blanket in front of Erik Thorstvedt's goal.
Ireland claimed 64% possession in the first half but scoring chances were as scarce as Norwegians fans in the 76,322 crowd.
Half a dozen crosses were whipped over from either side but only Townsend and Sheridan managed shots on goal and neither troubled Eric Thorstvedt.
The muscular Norsemen used all means, fair and foul, to keep Ireland at bay — and succeeded. For the entire half, it looked as if Norway were the team who needed a draw to advance, not Ireland.
At half-time, with both group E games scoreless, Norway were out unless they scored. Coach Egil Olsen got the message through and his team emerged with fire in their bellies.
Within four minutes, Eric Mykland managed their first shot on target but Bonner was equal to the challenge and made a smooth low stop to his right.
Jostein Flo, perhaps feeling the effects of a Staunton tackle which would have done justice to a Louth SFC match, switched from the left wing to the right.
The busy Mini Jakobsen, a first half substitute, began to cause Staunton problems as the Irish midfield lost their vice-like grip.
Yet nobody panicked. Thc unflappable Bonner was a calming influence who mopped up the loose ends which came his way, while the majestic McGrath was'there to plug the gaps until the 74th minute when Norway almost broke Irish hearts.
A corner on the right was whipped into the near post and strapping substitute Lars Bohinen missed connecting by only a stud's width.
The ball cannoned back off Ronnie Whelan, who had just come on, and fell to Goran Sorloth. His looping effort beat Bonner, clipped the crossbar, and dipped over. A let-off.
If anything, that escape seemed to galvanise the Irish. McAteer found his second wind —- as did Sheridan — and Whelan was also on hand lo lend all his experience and artistry to the cause.
Slick passing movement
A slick passing movement in the 79th minute ended with Keane, arriving like a juggernaut in the penalty area, to met a knockdown from substitute David Kelly, but he couldn't get enough leather over the ball.
Three minutes later, a five-man move, which started deep in defence, almost cracked Norway but Sheridan's exquisite chip from 25-yards caught the rigging on top of the net as Irish voices screamed a goal.
Norway didn't lie down and die but Ireland wouldn't concede an inch. Flo was denied a clear header by Gary Kelly's brave block and then Houghton robbed Flo in the penalty area.
With nerve-ends jangling, Whelan caught Bralseth in possession and Ireland won a throw-in and then a corner. Keep the ball in the Norway half was the unspoken plea of the Irish fans.
And then referee Jose Torres blew. It was over. Bonner hugged the rookies, Kelly and McAteer, Aldo shook hands and smiled with all the officials. A lap of honour followed. For a draw? Hey, these guys deserved it.
Republic of Ireland: 1 Packie Bonner (Glasgow Celtic), 5 Paul McGrath (Aston Villa), 11 Steve Staunton (Aston Villa), 12 Gary Kelly (Leeds United), 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), 21 Jason McAteer (Bolton Wanderers), 9 John Aldridge 67' (Tranmere Rovers)
Booked: Keane 3', Houghton 29', G Kelly 83' Subs: David Kelly (Wolverhamton Wanderers) for Aldridge 65', Ronnie Whelan 75' (Liverpool FC) for Townsend
Norway: Erik Thorstvedt, Gunnar Halle, Erland Johnsen, Rune Bratseth (capt), Stig Inge Bjørnebye, Henning Berg, Jostein Flo, Erik Mykland, Øyvind Leonhardsen, Kjetil Rekdal, Gøran Sørloth.
Booked: Sørloth 36', Johnsen 45' Subs: Jahn Ivar Jakobsen for Halle 34', Lars Bohinen for Leonhardsen 68'
Referee: Jose Joaquin Torres Cadena (Colombia)
Venue: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey