“If we’re smart we could get him a red card because he has a dodgy temperament.”
September 2, 2000. Ireland begin their 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign with a daunting opener away to the Netherlands.
After narrowly missing out on the 1998 World Cup and the Euros two years later, manager Mick McCarthy was desperate to lead his players to a tournament at the third time of asking.
Ireland’s preparations for the game in the Amsterdam Arena had been far from smooth, of course. Mark Kennedy and Phil Babb were removed from McCarthy’s squad after they pleaded guilty to damaging a garda car on Harcourt Street in Dublin following a drunken night out.
Reiziger taunts Keane.
Roy Keane was also less than enthused with the sight of some of his teammates eating cheese sandwiches prior to facing a world-class Dutch side that included Patrick Kluivert, Frank and Ronald de Boer and Clarence Seedorf.
Then, a few days later, Barcelona defender Michael Reiziger decided to stir the pot when he called on his fellow Dutch internationals to try and get Keane sent off by exploiting the Manchester United midfielder’s ‘dodgy temperament’.
In quotes that appeared on the player’s own website, Reiziger said: “Ireland has a couple of quality players including Manchester United’s Roy Keane, although I hear he has an injury problem and may not play.
“Assuming he does, if we’re smart we could get him a red card because he has a dodgy temperament. If referees know that about a player they are always far more likely to card them.
“We will have to provoke Keane in some way, perhaps holding his shirt or walking into him after he passes the ball. Players are also known to whisper comments about another player’s mother or the size of parts of his body.
“I don’t like that side of the game very much but if it helps us to win then it’s worthwhile.”
Reiziger subsequently climbed down from those comments with a follow-up post on his website.
“Perhaps I went over the top a bit in my last diary entry,” he said. “Of course I want to win this important match against Ireland and do the best for my country. “But I was wrong to suggest that one way of doing this was by getting a fellow professional sent off. I really don’t like that part of the game.
“Lots of niggling does go on during matches with name-calling and shirt-pulling quite common – it seems to be part of the game these days.
“Roy Keane is a fantastic player and I have nothing but absolute respect for him and everything that he has achieved with both Manchester United and Ireland.”
Keane lets his football do the talking.
While Keane has been known to retaliate in merciless fashion (to which Alf-Inge Haaland would attest), the Ireland captain did not rise to the bait in Amsterdam.
Partnered by Mark Kinsella in the middle of the park, Keane produced a stirring display to help Ireland storm into an unlikely 2-0 lead, with goals from Robbie Keane and Jason McAteer.
Writing for The Guardian, Nicholas Harling summed up Keane’s performance brilliantly: “He was his usual indefatigable self, cajoling, running, tackling, and doing little to generate animosity among his opponents.”
It was the perfect response from Keane. As he did so often for United and Ireland, he let his football do the talking.
Recalling the game in his book about Ireland’s 2002 World Cup experience, McCarthy wrote: “There is no contest in the middle of the field.
“Roy Keane, who has been taunted by Michael Reiziger through the press in the build-up to this game, is the best central midfield player in Europe while Mark Kinsella has really developed as his partner.”
While Ireland played out of their skins to establish a two-goal lead with 25 minutes remaining, they fell short of securing a historic win with which to launch their bid to reach the World Cup.
The Dutch, managed by Louis van Gaal, hit back with goals from Jeffrey Talan and Giovanni van Bronckhorst to snatch a 2-2 draw.
While Keane was furious that Ireland threw away a two-goal lead to drop two precious qualifying points, Ireland eventually emerged unbeaten from a tough group that also included Portugal.
In the penultimate game, Ireland again took the lead against the Dutch, with McAteer scoring again, only this time McCarthy’s side held on to secure all three points to guarantee a spot in the play-offs.