A host of native and international superstars in the world of soccer have descended on Dublin ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifying draw tomorrow, some with fond memories of the city, others less so.
One such man is legendary Portuguese goalkeeper, Vitor Baía. When he reminisces on past European competitions with a Dublin connection, one game comes to mind, for both positive and haunting reasons.
Portugal came to Lansdowne in April of 1995 for their Euro ’96 qualifying game against Ireland. Jack Charlton’s side had got off to a wonderful start, having won their opening three games but Portugal were top of the group. The big boys. It should have been a straight-forward win for them.
Against all the odds, Ireland won that day. Not because of some wonderous strike or outstanding ability, but because of a bizarre mistake by Baía. John Aldridge took the credit while the goalkeeper was left to ponder his mistake. As he does to this day.
“There was one game that I scored in. I scored the goal! I scored an own goal, the cross came in and my elbow. It was Aldridge who was the striker in that game and we lost 1-0 and it was terrible for me because we played very well, we controlled the game and one moment, one goal, my mistake.”
So not exactly the highlight of the campaign for him but in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t damage Portugal too badly. They topped the group and Ireland qualified as runners-up which resulted in a playoff loss to the Netherlands. Baía went on to star in every game for his country in that Euros campaign and the one that followed. He finished his international career with 80 caps and worldwide recognition.
Yet something else from that night remains with Baía. The atmosphere and the respect of the Irish fans for their home team and the visitors.
“It’s amazing, the atmosphere. The fans love football and the way they support the national team is incredible. I remember that we were warming up and Eusebio came to the middle of the field and it was incredible because it was a Portuguese player, we don’t see him playing in the stand and all the stadium was supporting him and saluting him, it was amazing.”
“I was warming up and I was looking, it’s amazing the way they receive us, receive our ambassador, Eusebio, it’s amazing. It’s only possible when people are a football culture, and they love the player whether from Ireland or not Ireland.”
Irish fans have always been synonymous with being loyal supporters. Although the mood of the country towards the sport has decreased dramatically, they will still turn up in their droves to support Ireland in what is sure to be a tough qualifying campaign, regardless of how tomorrow’s draw will go.
Perhaps some of that support will come off the back of the change in management and the renewed sense of enthusiasm that Mick McCarthy has brought with him. Despite all the doom and gloom, Baía is quick to remind us that there is always hope and that hosting the tournament will bring additional benefits off-the-field as well.
“It’s a new management, it’s a new beginning but they have quality, they have players with quality, the coach has lots of experience. He has been to the World Cup in 2002, now with Robbie Keane as his second, it is a new beginning. There is some hope for the next stage of the competition.”
“It’s positive. It’s an excellent moment for the development of football here in Ireland, having such an important competition here. As a host, we remember Portugal in 2004, the infrastructure, the stadiums were old.”
“It’s amazing because it helps the development of the country and then the stadiums, we had new stadiums that were more comfortable for the fans and better for all of us and in Ireland, it will be the same. It’s important being the host of such an important competition like that and I’m sure it will be before and after this competition, it will be better.”
You never know; one game or one mistake from the opposition could be all you need to go that one step further than everyone thought possible.
Today, Portuguese footballing legends Luís Figo, Nuno Gomes and Vitor Baía were in Dublin to showcase their skills at the Street Legends Community Football Event on Commons Street. The Street Football Community Football event is a joint initiative by Dublin City Council and the Football Association of Ireland ahead of the UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifying Draw in the Convention Centre on Sunday, 2nd December.
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