History Books Against Ireland in Euro 2016 Play-Off

12 Nov


So the clock ticks on towards Friday’s first leg of the Euro 2016 play off away to Bosnia.  In World Cup/European Championship play-offs, Ireland has appeared in seven and only proved successful in two, so the odds are definitely stacked against Ireland over the 180 minutes (excluding possible extra time) between Friday and Monday nights.

Here’s a history lesson of Ireland’s play-off results down the years.

Parc Des Princes, Paris, 1965: Spain 1, Ireland 0

We very nearly qualified for the 1966 World Cup in England.  Ireland had been drawn in a three team qualification group with Spain and Syria.  Syria withdrew in protest over the treatment of African teams by FIFA and in the home and away matches with Spain, Ireland won 1-0 in Dalymount and lost 1-4 in Seville.  With goal difference not counting back then, a play-off would decide who’d advance to England the following Summer.  The FAI, in their dubious wisdom, elected to cash in on attendance receipts and allowed Paris to be used for the play-off.  Paris made it virtually impossible for a sizeable Irish support to travel, while thousands of Spaniards made the short enough hop (for them) to Paris.  The attendance was reported as 36,000, of which 30,000 were Spanish.  The receipts the FAI would receive would be reportedly three times their annual income, so a virtual surrender off the pitch from Merrion Square saw an improved bank balance but ultimately a knock-out of the 1966 World Cup, as a late solitary goal was enough to send Spain through.

Ireland’s team was as follows (a very strong team too): Pat Dunne (Manchester Utd), Mick Meagan (Huddersfield Town), Shay Brennan (Manchester Utd), Noel Cantwell, Captain (Manchester Utd), Theo Foley (Northampton Town), Tony Dunne (Manchester Utd), Joe Haverty (Shelbourne), Eamon Dunphy (York City), Frank O’Neill (Shamrock Rovers), John Giles (Leeds Utd), Andy McEvoy (Blackburn Rovers).

Anfield, Liverpool, 1995.  Holland 2, Ireland 0

Post USA-94, Jack Charlton’s ageing squad containing veterans from Euro 88 and Italia 90 had started the qualifying group for Euro 96 very well, but an embarrassing 0-0 away draw in Liechtenstien and a double defeat to Austria and a dip in form and lack of replacements for Charlton’s creaking players saw Ireland finish 2nd in the qualifying group behind Portugal.

The writing was on the wall for Charlton’s Ireland and Holland were as much on the up as Ireland were on the slide. The Dutch team was packed with young starlets from Ajax’s glorious Champions League winning team of 1995 such as Edgar Davids, the De Boer brothers, Danny Blind, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert and it was Kluivert who scored both goals in a result that flattered Ireland.   Charlton’s selection included four full backs and despite the huge Irish support at Anfield, we were comprehensively beaten.  Irish fans knew it was probably the end for Charlton and being on the Kop that night was a very emotional occasion after the final whistle as Charlton was convinced to return to the Anfield pitch and acclaim an adoring and grateful Green Army.  It was indeed Big Jack’s final match as Irish Manager.

Ireland team: Alan Kelly (Sheffield Utd); Gary Kelly (Leeds Utd), Phil Babb (Liverpool), Paul McGrath (Aston Villa), Denis Irwin (Manchester United); Jeff Kenna (Blackburn Rovers), Andy Townsend (Aston Villa), John Sheridan (Sheffield Wednesday), Terry Phelan (Chelsea), John Aldridge (Tranmere Rovers), Tony Cascarino (Marseille). Subs: Jason McAteer (Liverpool) for Townsend (51); Alan Kernaghan (Man City) for Aldridge (73)

Two legged play off, October/November 1997, Ireland v Belgium

1st leg, Lansdowne Road, Ireland 1, Belgium 1

Mick McCarthy’s first qualifying campaign having replaced Jack Charlton ended with this two leg affair against Belgium.  McCarthy had pretty much had to rebuild a team following the retirements of so many of the Charlton era, so it was a decent effort to make a play-off to make the World Cup in France.  In the opening home leg, Denis Irwin fired home a wonderful early free kick to give Ireland the lead, but on the half hour, Belgium’s Luc Nilis equalised following a poor defensive header from a young Ian Harte and Belgium hung on comfortably to a 1-1 draw.

Ireland: Shay Given (Newcastle Utd); Gary Kelly (Leeds Utd), Kenny Cunningham (Wimbledon), Steve Staunton (Aston Villa), Ian Harte (Leeds Utd); Ray Houghton (Reading ), Andy Townsend (Middlesborough), David Connolly (Feyenoord), Mark Kennedy (Liverpool); Tony Cascarino (Nancy). Subs: Jeff Kenna (Blackburn Rovers) for Kennedy (33); Lee Carsley (Derby County ) for Townsend (74); Tommy Coyne (Motherwell) for Connolly (81)

2nd leg, Heysel Stadium,  Brussells. Belgium 2, Ireland 1

In what was a much improved performance from Ireland from the first leg, it looked like Ireland were headed for extra time until again Nilis pounced for a  winner after seizing on a lucky loose ball.

Oliveira had put Belgium ahead in the first half, but still around veteran Ray Houghton proved yet again to be the man for the big occasion when he rose brilliantly to head home Andy Townsend’s cross in the second half.  Ireland’s chances weren’t helped by the needless red card from David Connolly not long after coming on as a second half substitute before Nilis buried Ireland’s chances of a third successive World Cup finals.

Ireland: Shay Given; Jeff Kenna, Kenny Cunningham, Steve Staunton, Ian Harte; Gary Kelly, Lee Carsley, Alan McLoughlin (Portsmouth), Andy Townsend, Mark Kennedy; Tony Cascarino. Subs: Ray Houghton for McLoughlin (49); David Connolly for Kennedy (75); David Kelly (Tranmere Rovers) for Townsend (87)

November 1999, Ireland v Turkey

1st Leg, Lansdowne Road, Ireland 1, Turkey 1

That Ireland had to play this play off at all was particularly heartbreaking for this improving McCarthy era.  Irish fans were almost planning a nice trip to Belgium and Holland for Euro 2000 as Ireland led into injury time away to Macedonia.  A win would have assured us of going, but a free header from a corner from Macedonia’s Stavrevski put paid to our automatic hopes in sickening circumstances and it was against an always formidable and dangerous Turkey we were paired.

Similar however to the Belgium play-off, Ireland took the lead in the home leg with a typically smart Robbie Keane goal at the South Terrace end, but a late penalty for handball against Lee Carsley resulted again in a 1-1 home draw and we knew a testing away leg awaited us.

Ireland: Alan Kelly (Blackburn Rovers); Stephen Carr (Spurs ), Gary Breen (Coventry City ), Kenny Cunningham (Wimbledon), Denis Irwin (Man Utd); Rory Delap (Derby County), Lee Carsley (Blackburn Rovers), Roy Keane (Man Utd), Kevin Kilbane (West Brom); Tony Cascarino (Nancy), Robbie Keane (Coventry City). Subs: Damien Duff (Blackburn Rovers) for Delap (55); Dean Kiely (Charlton Ath) for Kelly (60); David Connolly (Excelsior) for Cascarino (75).

2nd leg, Bursa, Turkey 0, Ireland 0

A row over TV rights for this game meant the majority of viewing supporters didn’t actually see this return leg (this was before internet streams/wall to wall sports channels and other viewing options).  A resolute and by all accounts spiteful Turkish team frustrated Ireland into a scoreless draw and we were again out of our third successive play off, this time on away goals rule.  A final whistle fisticuffs resulted in Tony Cascarino getting a red card for punching a Turkish opponent, it was likely our only shot on target in that disappointing night.  McCarthy would have a third bite at qualification and would need a third successive play-off to achieve it.

Ireland: Dean Kiely; Stephen Carr, Kenny Cunningham, Gary Breen, Denis Irwin; Rory Delap, Mark Kinsella (Charlton Athletic ), Roy Keane, Kevin Kilbane; Niall Quinn (Sunderland), David Connolly. Subs: Jeff Kenna (Blackburn Rovers) for Carr (6); Damien Duff for Connolly (70); Cascarino for Kenna (81)

November, 2001.  Ireland v Iran

1st leg, Lansdowne Road, Ireland 2, Iran 0

Ireland had done brilliantly to get second place in a qualifying group topped by Portugal, with Holland failing to qualify for Japan/Korea 2002 thanks to THAT Jason McAteer goal at Lansdowne Road in September.  Iran were drawn to play us in our fourth play-off in a row under, the third under McCarthy following Charlton’s defeat for Euro 96.

Ireland won relatively comfortably with a goal in each half, the first from the penalty spot from Ian Harte after McAteer had been fouled and the crucial second from Robbie Keane who blasted home left footed after Quinn had headed the ball into his path.  Iran had showed little or no threat for the most part and 2-0 definitely had us with one and  a half feet in the World Cup Finals.

Ireland: Shay Given (Newcastle Utd); Steve Finnan (Fulham), Gary Breen (Coventry City), Steve Staunton (Aston Villa), Ian Harte (Leeds Utd); Jason McAteer (Sunderland), Matt Holland (Ipswich Town), Roy Keane (Man Utd), Kevin Kilbane (Sunderland); Niall Quinn (Sunderland), Robbie Keane (Leeds Utd). Subs: Kenny Cunningham (Wimbledon) for Staunton (75); Gary Kelly (Leeds United) for McAteer (83)

2nd leg,  Azadi Stadium, Tehran. Iran 1, Ireland 0

Roy Keane missed the 2nd leg to his ongoing hip injury, but his absence didn’t prove fateful to McCarthy’s selection.  An uneventful enough game, notable for the simply scary rendition of the Iranian National Anthem which thankfully didn’t faze the Irish team, only sprang into life in injury time when Golmohammadi headed home from close range from an Iranian free kick.  Ireland saw out the remaining seconds of injury time and at last McCarthy had achieved qualification for a major finals.

Japan and Korea will of course be remembered for the Saipan incident and this second leg play off was allegedly used when McCarthy and Keane had their disagreement over Keane’s hip injury.  It was nice however that Ireland had finally won a play-off to advance to the 2002 World Cup.

Ireland: Shay Given; Steve Finnan, Gary Breen, Steve Staunton, Ian Harte; Jason McAteer, Mark Kinsella, Matt Holland, Kevin Kilbane (Gary Kelly 82); David Connolly, Robbie Keane (Clinton Morrison 76)

November 2009, Ireland v France

1st leg, Croke Park.  Ireland 0, France 1

Suspicions over dirty tricks had already been raised after FIFA elected to make the play-offs seeded at the last minute, meaning Ireland were drawn against a really strong French team after a very creditable first qualifying campaign under veteran Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni.

Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped so Croke Park was the venue for the 1st leg and a huge “Go Green on November 14” was launched by You Boys in Green to give the Irish team the best possible support on the night.  Sadly, despite a battling and brave effort by Ireland, Nicolas Anelka’s late deflected shot off Sean St Ledger proved to be the only goal on the night, with French keeper Hugo Lloris thwarting Ireland a couple of times also.  Nevertheless, a huge Irish support had booked their trips to the return leg four days later in Paris……………

Ireland: Shay Given; John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger, Kevin Kilbane; Liam Lawrence, Keith Andrews, Glen Whelan, Damien DuffRobbie Keane, Kevin Doyle. Substitutes: Leon Best for Doyle (70); Aidan McGeady for Duff (76); Stephen Hunt for Liam Lawrence (80); Joe Murphy; Stephen Kelly; Paul McShane; Darron Gibson

2nd leg, Stade De France, Paris.  France 1, Ireland 1 (after extra time)

Writing about this game still hurts from one who was in Stade de France that night.  In what was without doubt Ireland’s finest performance in the Trapattoni era, Ireland were cheated out of appearing at the South African World Cup by Thierry Henry and three short-sighted officials, headed by referee Martin Hansson from Denmark.

Ireland levelled the aggregate score in the first half with a wonderful team goal converted by who else but Robbie Keane and Ireland were by far the better team on the night and only Damien Duff will know how he didn’t score in the second half when put through one on one with Lloris who saved.  Extra time looked to be heading for penalties when Malouda’s free kick floated hopefully into Ireland’s goal mouth.  Henry, initially offside from the free kick, then twice controlled the wide-bound ball with his hand before stabbing across the gaping goal for William Gallas to stoop and head France to the World Cup from two yards out.  Every Irish player saw the double handball by Henry and remonstrated with Hansson, who steadfastly claimed to have seen nothing…………..enough has been written said about that night…………I’ll leave it there, other than France got their comeuppance seven months later at the World Cup with a dreadful campaign, but it was of scant consolation to us Irish fans watching at home.  Merde.

Ireland: Shay Given; John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger, Kevin Kilbane; Liam Lawrence, Keith Andrews, Glen Whelan, Damien Duff; Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle. Substitutes: Darron Gibson for Whelan (63) Paul McShane for O’Shea (66); Aidan McGeady for Lawrence (106)

November 2011, Ireland v Estonia

1st leg, Talinn, Estonia 0, Ireland 4

The ghost of two years previous was well and truly banished by Trapattoni and his merry men in this first leg in Talinn.  Ireland finally and possibly kindly got the best possible draw against an inexperienced and brittle Estonia team.  Keith Andrews gave Ireland an early lead in the first leg with a fine header, with Jonathan Walters also heading home early in the second half.  That killed the Estonian resistance and Robbie Keane added two more (one a penalty) to complete a 4-0 rout, with the Estonians discipline collapsing with two red cards for their team.  It all meant Irish fans could start planning their routes to Poland a few days earlier than expected.

Ireland: Shay Given, Stephen Kelly, Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger, Stephen Ward, Aidan McGeady, Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan, (Keith Fahey 78) Damien Duff (Stephen Hunt 73), Robbie Keane, Jon Walters (Simon Cox 83)

2nd leg, Lansdowne Road, Ireland 1, Estonia 1

This second leg was never going to be more than a celebratory kickabout and so it proved as the Irish fans were able to acclaim their heroes qualifying for their first European Championships since 1988.  The second leg action was scant, Stephen Ward scoring early for Ireland and Estonia scoring to regain some respectability after their first leg humiliation.  Job done for Trapattoni and the nation looked forward to seeing Ireland at the top table of football again.

Ireland: Given (Aston Villa); John O’Shea (Sunderland), Dunne (Aston Villa), St Ledger (Leicester), Ward (Wolves); Duff (Fulham), Andrews (Ipswich Town), Whelan (Stoke City), Hunt (Wolves); Keane (LA Galaxy), Doyle (Wolves). Subs: McGeady (Spartak Moscow) for Hunt (59 mins), Cox (West Brom) for Keane (68 mins), Fahey (Birmingham) for Duff (79 mins)

So there you have it, seven previous play offs and only two qualifications.  So it’s only right we approach this test against Bosnia with the utmost care and discipline.  Bosnia are rightly ahead of us in the world rankings and are justifiable favourites.  I’m also concerned at the first leg absence of captain John O’Shea, the outstanding and talismanic Jonathan Walters and (probably due to injury) also Shane Long.  O’Shea is also likely to miss the second leg injured, but Walters will be back and probably Long.

Paris in 2009 however showed we tend to be at our best when underdogs and it’s least expected of us.  Martin O’Neill proved a canny operator in similar circumstances against Europe’s big guns when managing Celtic, so it is hoped he can continue to inspire this group of Irish players to their greatest heights yet in their international careers.  It is now time for the likes of Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, James McClean, Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan to step up a level and bring us to France next Summer.  The tournament and the French cafe bars demand the travelling Green Army is there.

Over to you lads, best of luck! Believe!


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