Next month will mark eight years since Ireland were knocked out of the World Cup by France in the playoffs. The game will forever be remembered for Thierry Henry’s handball. It was a thoroughly disappointing night for the team and fans, and the result ensured that it was France that would be travelling to South Africa the following summer.
However, the night remains one of the finest Irish performances in recent times. The Boys in Green were atrocious in the first leg in Croke Park. A Nicolas Anelka goal gave Les Bleus a lead to bring back to Paris, and there was no huge faith amongst fans nor the media that Ireland could turn things around.
Giovanni Trapattoni had not given the team licence to pour forward at any stage throughout the campaign, and most felt the prospect of causing the shock was beyond them.
However, the players had other ideas. Quite famously, they banded together and collectively agreed to disobey the Italian’s instructions.
Shay Given, writing in his upcoming autobiography Shay: Any Given Saturday, described the anguish after the first leg and what was needed to be done.
Where had our spark gone? Where had our mischief gone?
For the second leg in Paris, Trap wanted us to remain as we had in the first match. He wanted us rigid and deep without pressing too much.
As a squad, though, we felt this was the time to roll the dice.
Given recalls the speech he gave to his teammates before they took to the field in Stade de France.
“Lads I don’t care what he [Trap] says, we’re going to go at these tonight… We’re going to f***ing go for it, we’re going to press them, we’re going to hurry them, we’re going to throw everything at them. Whatever happens, if we get beat we get f***ing beat – and nobody gets back on that bus without giving everything”
Robbie Keane echoed the goalkeeper’s sentiment.
“This is why we play boys, this is where we want to be. We go out there now and we hit them with everything we’ve got until they don’t know what the f***’s going on.”
Ireland took to the field in a spirited manner and played some of the best football ever seen from the Boys in Green. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough, and they succumbed a 2-1 aggregate defeat after extra-time.
Extracts from Shay Given’s autobiography are available in today’s copy of the Sunday Independent.