Tragedy of errors hand it to Holland
World Cup 1994 last 16: Ireland 0 Holland 2
THEY died with their boots on, battling against the odds right up to the games last breath. But it wasn't enough.
Ireland yesterday became the 13th team to exit the World Cup finals. Down and out in the Citrus Bowl. And this time, the heat factor was irrelevant. The day was cool and overcast in a stadium curiously silent for such a vital game.
Two games in Orlando. Two defeats. For the Dutch, three wins from three games at the venue.
Hardly surprising that Jack Charlton should remark afterwards: "I certainly won't have pleasant memories of playing here."
Two self-inflicted wounds in the first half drained the life-blood from Ireland's World Cup crusade as Charlton and Irish fans watched in horror and near disbelief.
Elementary errors from, first Terry Phelan and then Packie Bonner, proved calamitous. There was no way back. The Dutch could not have anticipated such a gift-wrapped passage into a quarter-final showdown with Brazil in Dallas on Saturday.
No manager can legislate for mistakes of such magnitude. Few teams, if any, have the mental capacity to recover from them.
Not that Ireland raised a white flag. Not this team. Not once. Not ever.
But, for all their possession, pressure and persistence in the second half, the goal they craved so desperately just wouldn't come.
Driven on by an inspirational lung-busting performance from captain Andy Townsend, superbly assisted by Roy Keane, Ireland endured a clutch of near-misses and what-might-have-been incidents in the Dutch penalty area.
But the lack of firepower, Ireland's achilles heal for so long, showed again.
The pick of the scoring opportunities fell to centre-backs Phil Babb and Paul McGrath, while Ray Houghton had four efforts on goal. One, a header in the 51st minute, was only a whisker over the crossbar.
John Sheridan managed three long-range shots but not one tested Ed De Goey Frees and corner kicks yielded nothing.
A goal would have changed the complexion of the game but goals have always been in short supply for Ireland - four in nine finals games is a telling statistic.
Defeat is always hard to take - particularly if a team feels genuinely hard done by.
But when a team makes mistakes, particularly at this level, they expect to be punished,
Ireland can have no arguments about the outcome - because they pressed their own self-destruct button.
And the most annoying aspect of it all was that this Dutch team were no great shakes.
True, they put Ireland under pressure in the first half, when Wim Jonk lorded midfield and the speed and directness of Marc Overmars caused no end of problems for Phelan on the flank.
But the Dutch were forced to duck and weave for long periods in the second half and looked a very moderate team on occasions.
The Dutch defending became almost panic-stricken and veteran Ronald Koeman, in particular, looked vulnerable but no one on the Irish team seriously tested De Goey.
The only time the keeper was beaten was in the 89th minute when McGrath controlled a Houghton free and volleyed the ball home. However, Danish referee Mikkelson ruled that McGrath had raised a high boot on Frank Rijkaard.
It was, at best, a marginal decision. The Irish attack was given much-needed impetus when Jason McAteer and Tony Cascarino were thrown into the fray in the 63rd and 74th minutes respectively.
Cascarino's physical presence unsettled the Dutch defence. He nodded one ball down for Sheridan to shoot, another for Babb, who sliced it wide from ten yards, and Cascarino also claimed a penalty when Valtckx handled the ball in the penalty box.
McAteer added energy and penetration when he replaced Staunton. Maybe things might have been different if the young Scouser had been in from the start. Who knows?
Ireland began positively but were rocked back on their heels when Phelan, like Homer, nodded.
His misdirected header in the 10th minute was pounced on by Overmars, who quickly surged into the penalty box.
The Dutch winger’s squared pass was clinically steered under Bonner by Denis Bergkamp, his 21st goal in 35 internationals.
The Dutch seized the initiative after this breakthrough but Ireland were beginning to find their feet when disaster struck for a second time four minutes before half time.
Jonk, Bergkamp's Inter Milan soulmate, swept past Sheridan and let fire with a swerving shot from twenty-five yards.
Bonner, well out of his goal, didn't have to move off his spot to save. It was easy. Too easy. For a fateful instant, Bonner took his eye off the ball.
Suddenly, the ball spun off his gloves and looped over his left shoulder. In desperation, Bonner twisted in an effort to make amends but the ball was beyond his grasp.
The Irish goalkeeper thumped the turf with both fists, perhaps wishing for the ground to open up. Around him, Townsend , Houghton and McGrath held their heads in their hands.
Bonner, a hero against Romania four years ago, was sadly cast in the role of villain.
It was left to Gary Kelly to try and gee-up the forlorn Bonner. He clapped his hands and offered words of encouragement to his inconsolable goalkeeper. At that point, one sensed the worst.
So, Ireland's love affair with football's greatest temptress is over.
A last eight team in 1990, a last 16 team here. Not half bad for a country of such slender resources. The team are entitled to return home with their heads held high.
Remember, they battled through a 12 game qualifying campaign to reach the finals and then came through the 'group of death* to reach the last 16. Roy Keane, Babb, McAteer and Kelly came of age and hinted at a bright future for Ireland.
Of the senior players McGrath, Houghton and Townsend were the pick of the crop in the four games. But everyone who played contributed to an honourable campaign.
Ireland not only played their part but they looked the part of World Cup finalists.
With the bulk of the squad staying together - Kevin Moran is the only player likely to hang up his boots - there is no reason why the forthcoming European Championship campaign should not culminate in a fourth major final appearance under Charlton.
Republic of Ireland: 1 Packie Bonner (Glasgow Celtic), 3 Terry Phelan (Manchester City), 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) 15 Tommy Coyne (Motherwell)
Subs: 21 Jason McAteer 63' (Bolton Wanderers) for Staunton, Tony Cascarino 74' (Chelsea) for Coyne
Netherlands: Ed de Goey, Frank de Boer, Ronald Koeman (capt), Stan Valckx, Frank Rijkaard, Rob Witschge, Wim Jonk, Aron Winter, Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp, Peter van Vossen.
Goals: Bergkamp 11' Jonk 41'
Booked: R Koeman 72'
Subs: Bryan Roy for van Vossen 70', Arthur Numan for Witschge 79'
Referee: Peter Mikkelsen (Denmark)
Venue: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida