The last time Ireland reached a World Cup was back in 2002 when Mick McCarthy’s Boys in Green came within a penalty kick of the last eight of the tournament.
Despite captain Roy Keane’s departure from the Irish training camp still looming large, McCarthy’s side managed to qualify from their group, meeting Spain in the last 16.
Ireland played brilliantly and were arguably the better side, but they needed a late Robbie Keane’s equaliser to send the game to extra time, a half an hour in which the two sides still couldn’t be separated.
A penalty shootout followed, and with Matt Holland, David Connolly and Kevin Kilbane all failing to find the net, it was the then Lazio midfielder Gaizka Mendieta who stepped up to score the winning spot-kick and send Spain into the World Cup quarter-finals.
Speaking last week at the Street Legends Community Football Event ahead of the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying draw in Dublin, Mendieta explained that he has fond memories of the penalty but was keen to point out that, even though he scored, he felt that it was not a good spot kick.
“It’s something I had to do,” began Mendieta.
“It wasn’t my best penalty the way I took it because it was a bit central. Usually I would try to go a bit more on my right as the keeper dived on his right side.
“Luckily it went a bit high and over his leg. It was a bit tense for me because usually, I can see the picture more clearly.
“I get asked a lot whenever I meet someone Irish or come to Ireland. Obviously, that’s football. It would have been a great opportunity for Ireland to make history.”
Mendieta, who starred for the likes of Valencia and Barcelona before moving to the Premier League to play for Middlesbrough, outlined that despite his Spanish team advancing to the next round, the game could most certainly have gone Ireland’s way with a little bit of luck.
“That Irish team was good, we struggled which you’d expect in a World Cup because every team that makes it there is going to be good. Ireland had a really good team.
“It could have gone either way, it was a really tight game by way of chances for both, Ireland had some really good players.”
Footballing legends Robert Pirès & Gaizka Mendieta were in Dublin to showcase their skills at the Street Legends Community Football Event ahead of the UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifying Draw.