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'I would rate it as the finest performance I have ever seen from an Irish team' - Niall Quinn's reaction to shock win

Niall Quinn gives his inside view as Ireland claim their place among the great soccer nations of the earth

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Ray Houghton is congratulated by team-mates from left, Tommy Coyne, John Sheridan, Steve Staunton and Phil Babb, after scoring Ireland's winning goal against Italy at Giants Stadium, New Jersey, USA.  World Cup Finals 1994. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Ray Houghton is congratulated by team-mates from left, Tommy Coyne, John Sheridan, Steve Staunton and Phil Babb, after scoring Ireland's winning goal against Italy at Giants Stadium, New Jersey, USA. World Cup Finals 1994. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Ray Houghton is congratulated by team-mates from left, Tommy Coyne, John Sheridan, Steve Staunton and Phil Babb, after scoring Ireland's winning goal against Italy at Giants Stadium, New Jersey, USA. World Cup Finals 1994. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

The world now knows Ireland are no bit-players at this carnival.

Saturday should prove the day the begrudgers, the sceptics, the pseudo-purists came to realise we have a team utterly worth its place at football's round table.

Believe me, the players have always known. They have always realised that on a good day, there is not a side on the globe that can frighten us. But we needed to prove it on a stage like the Giants stadium before an audience like the billions who witnessed this shuddering defeat of Italy.

The thing is for those who find something unpalatable about art and stomping on the feet of supposedly superior allegedly more sophisticated football power.

I have no doubt there would be those even now, who will focus on Italy's reputation for being slow starters. The reputation is a nonsense. Fact is the Italians in 11 previous appearances at the World Cup finals have never been beaten in their opening game.

Just look at the household names they brought with them to Saturday's game - men like Maldini, Baresi, Costacurta, Donadoni, Signori and, of course, Roberto Baggio

To see such players completely over-run by an Irish side so forceful, so totally assured was an image we should cherish for the rest of our lives.

Frankly, I would rate it as the finest performance I have ever seen from an Irish team.

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The Republic of Ireland team who defeated Italy at USA 94. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

The Republic of Ireland team who defeated Italy at USA 94. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

The Republic of Ireland team who defeated Italy at USA 94. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

As I said beforehand, I could detect an unmistakable confidence about the lads during training. Nobody got carried away by the friendly victories in Tilburg and Hanover. But, they did take the positive aspects of those performances to heart ... the fact that we could take on sides of the calibre of Dutch and Germans on equal terms.

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The point is you cannot feign the kind of assurance that Ireland and brought to New Jersey on Saturday. You cannot manufacture things like courage or honesty. They're in your blood, your instinct.

Ireland beat the Italians because they refused to hide, refused to play the safety football many believed would bring a valuable draw.

So much has been made up to now with the fact that we didn't actually win a game in Italy four years ago. It has been a convenient stick which the sceptics have beaten us since.

Well I challenge anyone today to say this team is dour, negative or boring, the extraordinary thing was, not simply that we beat the Italians for the first time in eight meetings, but that to all intents and purposes, we destroyed them.

When you think of John Sheridan's shot the thumped the bar, Pagliuca's brilliant saves from Ray Houghton's second half volley and Andy Townsend's header, the tempo with which we finished the game, you will realise the scoreline scarcely flattered.

Personally I was delighted for 'Razor' to get the goal. Only the players understand how much effort Houghton put into reclaiming the form of old. I know he was annoyed that Jack recently went so public with his doubt's over Ray's capacity to be a factor in this tournament. Like all human beings, he would have prefered a private word.

But Jack is a master at assessing people. He knew full well that a wounded Ray Houghton could prove a dangerous animal in USA 94. And so it seems set to prove.

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Ireland v Italy 18th June 1994: Paul McGrath battles with Roberto Baggio

Ireland v Italy 18th June 1994: Paul McGrath battles with Roberto Baggio

Ireland v Italy 18th June 1994: Paul McGrath battles with Roberto Baggio

I was with the players when they walked out on the pitch about an hour and a half before the start and everyone was staggered by the scale of the Irish support. Everywhere you looked in the ground just seemed to be a sea of green and white. We reckoned at the time that it was simply because the Italians prepared to arrive closer to the kickoff time.

But no one was prepared for what hit them when the game began. The last figure I heard mentioned was that maybe 50,000 of those assembled were supporting Ireland. It certainly looked and sounded that way.

You simply cannot imagine what strength that gives the team. Suffice to say in the dressing room afterwards, it was one of the primary topics of conversation.

From a magnificent team performance, I have to choose Paul McGrath for a special mention. Despite all the doubts Paul smiled his way through Ireland's acclimatisation for the brutal heat of America in mid-summer. He has answered all of those who suspected he was fading.

Philip Quinn’s player ratings:

PACKIE BONNER

CALLED upon to make one save of note when he cut down the angle to beat away Signori's stinger. Assured, commanding, composed. Thrives on the big games. Has never dealt better with the back-pass.

Rating: 8.

DENIS IRWIN

WHO says he lacks pace? Got back goal-side to make an 11th hour tackle on Dino Baggio and save the day. A touch tentative in the first 15 minutes but ice-cool thereafter.

Rating: 8.

TERRY PHELAN

TUCKED in when he had to and darted forward when the opportunity was there. Probably the fastest player on the field. Made one 70-yard excursion in the first half and trotted back as if it had taken nothing out of him.

Rating: 8.

PHIL BABB

FIVE games for Ireland, Five clean sheets. At 23, what a prospect! Showed composure beyond his years and drew inspiration from Paul McGrath. Clever, too. Remember his first half header which cut out the danger?

Rating: 8.

PAUL McGRATH

BAGGIO and Baresi were only in the ha'penny place compared to McGrath who quickly found top gear. The back-heel flick is his effective party-piece but there's so much more to this remarkable athlete. Long may his knees hold up.

Rating: 9.

RAY HOUGHTON

DOESN'T score many but when he does they certainly count. Who put the ball in the Italy net? Razor. Razor. Almost scored a second after a stop-start substitution.

Rating: 8.

ROY KEANE

MADE three bone-crunching tackles in the first half and went on from there. His strength and quick-thinking created that glorious chance for Sheridan. Said it was the best performance of any team he has played in. Hear, hear.

Rating: 9.

JOHN SHERIDAN

EXCELLENT on the ball, fair off it. Work rate and positioning were suspect on occasion, but he warmed to the task and became more influential in the second half. Annoyed himself for not applying the coup de gras in the 73rd minute.

Rating: 7.

ANDY TOWNSEND

MAYBE it was the bleached coiffure but Townsend didn't always look himself. Not that he did a lot wrong. Like Keane his tackling and running were immense and almost scored with a far-post header. Once or twice Dino Baggio was allowed too much rope.

Rating: 8.

STEVE STAUNTON.

LOVES a scrap and it showed. Can go the distance in any company and kept the Tasoti / Donadoni axis on the back foot. Always willing to track back although his striking was not as crisp as it can be.

Rating: 7.

TOMMY COYNE

A SLUGGISH start. Nerves or heat?.A little of both. But he kept plugging away, making runs into the channels, looking for the knock-downs Unselfish too as he dummied Keane’s drag-back when others might have shot.

JASON MCATEER

WHAT a birthday present! 23 and cheeky with it. Who else would have the nerve to be nutmegging Baggio in his first competitive international. His exuberance and pace were just what Big Jack wanted in the final quarter. Razor could be under pressure.

Rating: 8.

JOHN ALDRIDGE

SENT on for the last 30 seconds which stretch for four tense minutes. Ready and waiting if Jack wants to or needs to make a change against Mexico.

Not on long enough to rate.


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