September 1, 2001, is a date no Irish football supporter will ever forget.
The Republic of Ireland 1-0 The Netherlands. In the first of our Retro Player Ratings, we look back at one of Ireland’s best victories on the football pitch.
The Netherlands, the team which ended Ireland’s involvement in Euro ’88, the World Cup in 1994 and in qualification for Euro ’96, were in town and needed a win to keep alive their hopes of reaching the World Cup.
Ireland were standing between them and a place at the tournament.
Louis van Gaal’s side was full of top-class players.
Edwin van der Saar, Marc Overmars, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jaap Stam were among the best players in the world in their respective positions.
They were aristocrats of football, a team that had reached the semi-finals of the two previous tournaments.
Ireland, by comparison, had one world-class player and two brilliant up and coming talents but were mostly a team of hard-working Premier League players.
Mick McCarthy’s side knew that victory against the Netherlands would secure them a play-off place for the 2002 World Cup.
They got the victory courtesy of Jason McAteer’s goal, Roy Keane’s performance in midfield and some resolute defending.
After rewatching the famous match, here are our ratings for the Ireland players:
Shay Given – 8
The Newcastle United goalkeeper was on the road to establishing himself as one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers at this point. He proved his worth to Ireland with a string of important saves.
The Netherlands had two of the best strikers in the world at the time in the form of Van Nistelrooy and Kluivert, and they finished the game with four centre forwards on the pitch.
Yet, Given was equal to every effort they had on goal. He made one particularly impressive save near the end when Ireland were hanging on, springing from his goal line to block a shot from Van Nistelrooy.
Gary Kelly – 5
From the first whistle, Kelly struggled against Marc Overmars – which was understandable, as the Dutch winger was unstoppable when at his brilliant best. The Leeds United full-back was turned inside out on a few occasions and eventually received his second yellow card after half-time for a tackle from behind on Overmars.
In truth, Kelly should have been substituted long before he was sent-off, as he couldn’t cope with the Barcelona winger.
McCarthy, for some reason, opted to persist with Kelly and got lucky when his replacement Steve Finnan set-up Ireland’s goal.
Steve Staunton – 7
The Ireland veteran had some nervous moments – including a mix-up with Given that almost resulted in a goal for the Dutch. He was unsure in possession too.
But Staunton grew into the game and came to the fore when Ireland retreated with 10 men, keeping a close eye on Van Nistelrooy, who rarely ended games at this point without getting on the scoresheet.
Staunton’s experience was key in seeing out the victory.
Richard Dunne – 7
Just 21 at the time, Dunne overcame a rocky start in the match. His distribution left a lot to be desired and there were a few loose passes, heavy touches and shaky moments. But Dunne’s discipline and reading of the game was excellent and improved as the game progressed.
The then-Manchester City defender swept up behind Staunton, who stuck close to the prolific Van Nistelrooy. He made his fair share of interceptions and blocks – one at the death obstructed Van Nistelrooy just as he was about to shoot from eight yards out. Dunne cleared the ball away from Ireland’s goal 18 times in the game.
However, most impressively, he didn’t fall into Louis van Gaal’s trap as the Dutch manager positioned Patrick Kluivert behind Van Nistelrooy. Dunne didn’t allow himself to be dragged out of position by dropping deep to pick up the Barcelona forward.
Kevin Kilbane – 7
Kilbane was, at times, loose in possession and ran down a few blind alleys before losing the ball. But he was one of Ireland’s better players in the first half and worked extremely hard throughout.
The then-Sunderland winger linked up well with Robbie Keane on one or two occasions and offered Ian Harte cover at left-back.
He also hit a few dangerous crosses into the penalty area for Ireland’s forwards to attack before fading from the game in the second half.
Ian Harte – 6
Harte tested Edwin van der Saar with a trademark free-kick in the second half but largely had his attacking instincts curbed.
The Leeds United full-back was beaten on a couple of occasions by Bolo Zenden and was loose in possession, but, ultimately, stood up to the Dutch challenge as part of Ireland’s resolute back-four.
Matt Holland – 6
Holland was largely anonymous in the opening period but began to have more of an impact in the second-half when he picked up Kluivert, who was playing in a withdrawn role behind Van Nistelrooy. He had little impact when in possession.
Roy Keane – 9
Ireland’s captain was immense. Keane was the calmest player in possession, the driving force behind the team and, ultimately, the difference between the teams.
The Manchester United captain landed a heavy tackle on Overmars in the opening minutes and this set the tone for the match. It laid down a marker, making it known to Ireland’s illustrious opponents that it wouldn’t be their day.
Keane’s tackle also rattled the Dutch. They gave away several sloppy fouls and needless free-kicks in the first half, wasting time arguing with officials and lowering themselves to Ireland’s level.
However, his main contribution that day was effectively setting up the only goal.
With Ireland down to 10 men and largely stuck in their own half repelling attacks from the Netherlands, Keane collected the ball near the half-way line.
The Man United midfielder forced his way past Mark van Bommel, drove up the pitch, dragged Jaap Stam out of position and laid it off to Damien Duff.
Duff found Steve Finnan. Finnan found Jason McAteer and McAteer found the net. Ireland were about to secure a World Cup play-off place.
However, without Keane, without someone taking responsibility, the goal would not have been possible.
In the first-half, in particular, the Irish players were sprinting around at full pelt, huffing and puffing and working extremely hard, but were rushed in possession, and often needlessly losing the ball.
Keane was the brain of the Ireland team, the one who got the ball down and brought some structure and class to a hard-working team.
He talked his teammates through the game, broke up play and got his side up the pitch. It was the complete midfield performance and a towering display of leadership on a football pitch.
According to Niall Quinn, in the dressing room after the game, Roy was “giving out to somebody about what they did 25 minutes into the game and everybody’s going: ‘What’s he on about?’ But that’s typical. That’s Roy for you.’
That was Keane and that’s why Ireland got to the World Cup. McCarthy was the manager, but Keane was the difference between qualification and another near-miss. As this match proved, he was driving the motorbike to the World Cup in Japan and South Korea, McCarthy was merely riding in the sidecar
Man of the match.
Jason McAteer – 8
McAteer was starting his first game of the season against the Netherlands, after finding himself out of favour at Blackburn Rovers.
He looked rusty at times, particularly in the first half when his passing was wayward, and he didn’t always provide Kelly adequate protection against Overmars.
He was also on the end of a verbal bashing from Keane in the first half for losing the ball.
However, McAteer improved after the break, especially when Kelly was sent-off, and ultimately won the game with a brilliant finish past Van der Saar.
The former Liverpool midfielder ran himself into the ground, working tirelessly for his teammates, and received a standing ovation when he was taken off in stoppage time at the end of the game.
His finest moment in a green shirt.
Damien Duff – 8
The Blackburn Rovers winger started up-front for Ireland alongside Robbie Keane and played a big part in the goal. Duff collected the ball from Roy Keane and sprayed it out wide for Finnan, who set-up McAteer. The Dubliner was on the edge of the game for long spells but showed his class when in possession with some deft touches and intelligent passes.
When Robbie Keane was substituted after Kelly was sent-off, Duff was Ireland’s lone forward and he made the most of the limited service he received.
He relieved pressure for his teammates, winning free-kicks high up the pitch to help Ireland catch their breath and get up the field.
Robbie Keane – 7
You would imagine that hoofing the ball towards five-foot-nine Robbie Keane while he was being marked by six-foot-three Jaap Stam, then one of the world’s best defenders, would not be a smart tactic for Ireland. And it probably wasn’t.
Yet, the Dubliner got the better of Stam on several occasions, using his intelligence and movement to anticipate where the ball would land while dragging the physically imposing Dutch defender out of position.
Robbie was a handful. He tested Van der Saar with a couple of shots, linked up well with Duff and Kilbane and helped his team by dropping deep and winning the ball.
However, McCarthy decided to take him off for Finnan in a tactical move after Kelly was sent-off. The Ireland manager got lucky, as Keane should have remained up-front, with Duff on the left and Kilbane coming off for Finnan.
Steve Finnan – 7
He had a few shaky moments in defence after coming on following Kelly’s dismissal, but Finnan set-up McAteer’s goal with a deft cross to the back-post after gambling with a run forward and creating space for the pass.
Niall Quinn & Andy O’Brien – N/A
Not on long enough to rate.
(Originally published on April 16, 2020).