Ireland 1 England 0
UNBELIEVABLE. Well, not really. These Republic of Ireland players certainly believed in themselves, at the Neckarstadion in Stuttgart yesterday.
And the boys in green just keep on making history, with this glorious, fantastic — the superlatives could be an Irish mile long — triumph over England.
All sparked off after only six minutes with a never to be forgotten goal by Ray Houghton. A long ball — we saw a lot of these from both sides in the course of the afternoon — carried to Tony Galvin, his centre saw Kenny Sansom fluff his clearance and John Aldridge seized the opportunity to knock the ball on to Houghton who headed with such precision that not even Peter Shilton, who was earning his 99th cap, had a hope of stopping the ball.
And surely this display will now relegate at last our only other victory over the old enemy, back in 1949, to second place in the record books. After all this was a European Championship tie, with England the firm favourites, a position they certainly did not justify in the first half.
During which apart from a couple of incidents, they were never really allowed a clear sight of their target. There was one occasion when John Barnes flashed through the middle from a ball from Neil Webb, but the challenge at the last second by Mick McCarthy was good, although some of the England players looked to the referee in the slim hope of a penalty.
But it was a rather different story in the second period. Indeed on more than one occasion I had visions of a less romantic piece of Irish footballing history being repeated. The ghost of Johnny Atyeo loomed large as England pounded the opposing rearguard only thankfully, to squander some very good opportunities.
And when the English were on target Pat Bonner emerged as the Irish hero of heroes. Right to the end he defied Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley in particular and we were in injury time when he topped the whole thing off with a world class save in knocking a Lineker header wide off the upright. No wonder that when the final whistle sounded at long last the goalkeeper sank to his knees totally overcome.
It was the eighth time in a row for Bonner to have a clean sheet and the Republic are now unbeaten in the last eleven matches. In front of an attendance of 53,000 the football maybe was not always pretty to witness. But who cares. Ireland won and now have a tremendous chance of getting to the semi-finals.
After Bonner I think I would rate that human dynamo Houghton as Ireland's next outstanding player, not just for his goal but for his quite remarkable work rate. Paul McGrath as well as playing his part in shutting down England at midfield, at least in that opening half, also did a tremendous job of sealing off some gaps that appeared behind him. But overall the defence did a great job and who's to say that they did not deserve those moments of good fortune which came their way after the break.
Against it all England struggled to get going, with not enough inspiration coming from Bryan Robson and with the feared menace of John Barnes almost totally closed down, by the time the losers — what a lovely word that is — did develop a pattern began to expose cracks in the Irish cover, their nerves must have been a bit ragged.
That is one explanation for the profligate waste up front when they enjoyed uncomfortably long periods of possession. Their confidence was certainly not improved when shortly after the interval Lineker had a thundering drive parried by Bonner, with Beardsley unaccountably knocking the rebound over the crossbar. There was to follow almost a litany of missed chances with the two renowned strikers as the biggest culprits.
It was not entirely one-sided for in the 60th minute Ronnie Whelan smashed a blistering drive off the crossbar and later that man Houghton sent one screaming past the far post. During the course of it all England brought on Glenn Hoddle for Webb and towards the end the unfortunate Beardsley retired in favour of Mark Hateley. But it did not make a great deal of difference to the English, who apart from anything else, did not in my estimation show anything like the character of their rivals.
ENGLAND — Shilton; Stevens, Adams, Wright, Sansom; Waddle, Robson, Webb, (Hoddle 60 min.), Barnes; Lineker, Beardsley (Hateley 83).
IRELAND — Bonner; Morris, McCarthy, Moran, Hughton; Houghton, Whelan, McGrath, Galvin, (Sheedy 77); Aldridge, Stapleton (Quinn 63). Referee — S. Kirschen (E. Germany).
RAY HOUGHTON, who shattered England's European Championship hopes with that sensational sixth-minute goal, was simply outstanding on a day for Irish heroes in Stuttgart.
The Liverpool midfielder followed-up his first international goal in 16 games for Ireland with an effervescent display which left Bobby Robson's boys gasping.
And lest we forget, Ray also lent valuable assistance to right back Chris Morris in the taming of England winger John Barnes.
The big Donegalman will forever play his leading role in Gary Lineker's nightmares after a stunning display in the Neckarstadion. Ireland's sensational shotstopper has now gone 729 minutes in eight games since conceding his last goal. RATING — 9
Polished, confident and assured, the Celtic man came of age as an international defender when faced with his greatest challenge, England's John Barnes, yesterday. Good on the ball, Morris impressively played his way out of tight corners. RATING — 7
nother deeply committed, power-packed display from the Manchester United stopper, who was dominant in the air throughout and offered tremendous cover to those about him. Positional play was good, which helped counteract the pace of the English attack. RATING — 8
Usually the rock of the Irish rearguard, Mick was a little exposed for pace when the English floated the ball over the top. Doubts had been expressed about the Celtic player's fitness before the game and he was not at his sharpest. RATING — 6
Clearly, England expected Hughton's Tottenham colleague Chris Waddle to cause him . problems but the earnest and highly-experienced Irish left back stuck doggedly to his task and was never exposed ... Waddle was constantly forced to run inside. RATING —7
Scored Ireland's glory goal and delivered an outstanding overall performance. On this form, Houghton will establish himself as one of the superstars of these finals. The Liverpool player has limitless energy, great touch and a sense of adventure. He also defended with gusto. RATING — 10
Whether he likes it or not, Manchester United man Paul is a first-class defensive midfielder. England's vaunted skipper Bryan Robson was totally eclipsed by McGrath until the closing stages. Paul also did great work in his own area. RATING — 7
Blasting one shot off the crossbar was the.highlight of an excellent display by Whelan, whose vision, ball control and passing were a joy to behold. Like his Liverpool clubmate Houghton, Ronnie is a tireless performer who also contributes much defensively. RATING — 9
Many eyebrows were raised when Jack Charlton opted for Galvin instead of Sheedy but the Sheffield Wednesday reserve fully vindicated the manager's decision. Looking sharper and quicker of late, Galvin literally ran himself into the ground. RATING — 7
Still no goals for Anfield striker John but with a performance like this, who cares? Aldridge mercilessly hounded the English defence right across the width of the pitch, chasing lost causes and goal chances with enthusiasm and energy. RATING — 9
Like Galvin, crafty captain Frank gave his all before being substituted in the second half. Stapleton out-smarted the England central defenders, Wright and Adams, time and again. He dominated in the air up front and also imposed himself at midfield, when required. RATING — 8
The towering Arsenal striker replaced Stapleton in the 62nd minute and gave colleagues under pressure an easily identifiable target. RATING — 7
Slepped-in for the exhausted Galvin in the closing stages and looked calm, assured and controlled on the ball. RATING — 7