As it’s St. Patrick’s Day, Pundit Arena HQ has gone all green, white and gold, unearthing Irish gem after gem. Here, Eoin Lyons takes us back to the five best victories* for Ireland over the years, in the hope that there are more to follow this year.
Note:Despite protests in the office, we weren’t allowed to include Ireland’s 1-1 draw with world champions Germany as a victory. Boo-urns.
5. Republic of Ireland 8 – 0 Malta, 16/11/1983
While it may not be the most significant victory in Irish soccer history with regards to tournament progression or quality of the opponents, this victory over Malta does remain the biggest win ever recorded by the Irish international side. In what was far from the glory days of Irish football, Eoin Hand managed Ireland through a tough qualifying group for the 1984 European Football Championship. Although the campaign started well, losses to Spain and the Netherland ended any hopes of qualification for Ireland. The final game against Malta however, resulted in the Irish team ending the campaign on a high. Mark Lawrenson and Kevin Sheedy stole the show in front of the home crowd in Lansdowne Road, netting half of the side’s eight goals between them. This huge win earned the team much respect, and their failed campaign was even further vindicated by Spain’s progression the whole way to the final in 1984.
4. Republic of Ireland 3 – 0 Saudi Arabia, 11/06/2002
Again, while it may not have been against particularly star-studded opponents, Ireland’s victory over Saudi Arabia in the 2002 World Cup Group E will go down in the annals of Irish soccer as one of our most important victories. In one of our most admirable World Cup campaigns, Mick McCarthy’s Irish side opened their group with two draws against Cameroon and Germany. Due to this, Ireland was set to qualify if they won by a two-goal margin or more in their final group game. While this looked manageable considering Germany’s 8-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia in the opening game, the Middle Eastern men did improve in their second game.
Refusing to sit back and let qualification to be handed to them, Duff, Keane and the rest took the initiative and opened the scoring within ten minutes. The Irish team did not falter for the entire game, and progressed to the next round in stunning fashion. This form continued into the famous loss to Spain, ending an admirable effort in the Far East for Ireland.
3. Republic of Ireland 1 – 0 England, 12/06/1988
This article would not be the same if it did not include a win over England. Thankfully, Jack Charlton’s Irish squad gained a victory worthy of inclusion, in Euro ’88. In his first attempt at qualification into a major tournament for Ireland, Jack’s “Put ‘em under pressure” mentality saw us make our debut appearance at a major football finals competition. What a debut to remember.
Facing a side that contained the likes of Tony Adams, Brian Robson, Gary Lineker and John Barnes, many understandably saw Ireland as the underdogs in the fixture against an English side with Bobby Robson at the helm. All critics were quickly hushed however, as merely six minutes in, Ireland took the lead. Thanks to John Aldridge out-jumping the usually unsurmountable Tony Adams, the ball found the head of a composed Ray Houghton who arched the ball over Peter Shilton in the English goal. Thanks to composure in every yard of the pitch, and Bonner being unbeatable on goal, Ireland gained a classic win over the auld enemy in classic style.
2. Republic of Ireland 1 – 0 Italy, 18/06/1994
Much like the game against England, the Irish battle with Italy was a game in which Ireland were serious underdogs. Italy’s starting line-up was nothing short of star-studded; Costacurta, Maldini, Baresi, Donadoni and the Baggio brothers, to name but a few. These stars made up an Italian side which was seemingly far superior to the men in green.
However, much like in the game against England in 1988, the Republic of Ireland managed to gain the early advantage thanks to the clinical Ray Houghton. The 32-year-old drilled the ball past Pagliuca, forcing the sea of tricolour in the Giants Stadium to their feet in excitement and happiness.
Ireland again remained composed, with Paul McGrath in particular, stealing the show as the Irish held out for another huge victory. An excerpt from Roy Keane’s autobiography sums up perfectly the efforts of McGrath and his teammates that day, in recording one of Ireland’s most exciting victories;
“Big Paul McGrath showed all the qualities demanded of us for half an hour in Giants Stadium that day. For him the word big is appropriate. Known for his poise, his ability on the ball, his unique gift for reading the game, Paul displayed these qualities on this day.”
1. Republic of Ireland 0 – 0 Romania (a.e.t.) / Ireland won 5-4 in a penalty shoot, 25/06/1990
What an experience. Ireland’s victory over Romania in the last sixteen of Italia ‘90 will go down in history as one of the most emotional games ever played by an Irish soccer team. After making it into the knockout stages without any wins (thanks to some safe draws), Jack Charlton and his squad knew that facing the technically gifted Romanians would not be an easy task.
With the iconic Hagi at the helm, Ireland had no choice but to remain tight and composed against the Romanians, showing an excellent frame of mind throughout. After 120 minutes of football without either side breaking the deadlock, a penalty shoot-out beckoned.
As a nation, we all moved forward in our seats. In a fantastic display, the shoot-out went to sudden death after neither side could edge ahead. After Bonner finally denied Timofte’s attempt, the fate of the nation rested on David O’ Leary to slot home the winning penalty. As a nation held its breath, in an agonising wait for O’ Leary to strike the ball, he eventually sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, and gave Ireland the most nerve-wracking victory in our sporting history. The game immortalised a side that were arguably the best the nation has ever had, in an experience that was equally as iconic.
While we may not get victories as good as these this year, some performances that could emulate them may certainly come in handy. A return to glory after some years of dismay would be a pleasant surprise for all of us.
Pundit Arena, Eoin Lyons.
Featured Image By BKP (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.