Ireland’s best and worst World Cup moments

The World Cup starts in less than a week and, great and all as it is, some of the shine is taken off the tournament when your own nation isn’t involved.

Ireland have only been to three World Cups but managed to create enough memories to last a life time. Here’s a look at the five best and worst moments from 1990, 1994 and 2002.

The best

1. Ray Houghton v Italy, 1994

Ok, it might have been a bit of a mishit but who cares? Ray Houghton’s left foot volley that looped over Gianluca Pagliuca at Giants Stadium on June 18th, 1994 is the standout moment from Ireland’s World Cup appearances.

Ireland were massive underdogs going into the game but a masterful performance at the back from Paul McGrath kept the likes of Roberto Baggio quiet, and Houghton’s goal was enough for victory against the eventual finalists.



2. Packie Bonner v Romania, 1990

It was a toss of a coin over whether to give Packie Bonner or David O’Leary centre stage for this one, but without the former’s save there wouldn’t have been the opportunity for the latter to send Ireland through to the quarter finals.

While most football fans would probably opt for Gheorghe Hagi if asked to name a Romanian player, an Irishman would probably lead with poor Daniel Timofte.



3. Robbie Keane v Germany, 2002

Another “where were you?” moment. Personally, I was in a Connemara Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking summer school for those who don’t know) with a couple of hundred other 15 to 17 year olds watching the game on a big screen. The roof nearly flew off the place when Keane latched on to a Niall Quinn knockdown to fire past Oliver Kahn.

Considering the Germans got to the final that year, a draw was an excellent result and helped Ireland through to the knockout stages.



4. Kevin Sheedy v England, 1990

A game against the old enemy at the our very first World Cup, it didn’t really get any bigger back in 1990. Ireland had beaten England 1-0 at the European Championships two years before and were keen to make it a major tournament double.

Gary Lineker put Bobby Robson’s side one up in the first half but, after 73 minutes, Kevin Sheedy’s trusty left foot drilled the ball home to salvage a point.



5. Robbie Keane v Spain, 2002

1-0 down having already missed a penalty and shanked the rebound, Ireland were given another opportunity to draw level with Spain when Fernando Hierro was ajudged to have tugged Niall Quinn’s jersey in the 90th minute. Unlike Ian Harte before him, Keane dispatched the spot kick and Ireland headed into extra time with all the momentum.

The heart said we were bound for the quarter finals again…



The worst

1. Roy Keane and Saipan, 2002

Confidence was high ahead of the 2002 World Cup and Ireland had a playing group capable of going far in the tournament, led by talisman and captain Roy Keane. However, a bust up with manager Mick McCarthy over the training facilities resulted in Keane deciding he was going to leave the camp. He changed his mind overnight but the damage was done and McCarthy sent the Manchester United man home after consulting with other senior players.

The nation was split into two camps – “He walked out on his country” and “He was sent home” – and, more than a decade on, the incident still comes up in the form of a debate after a pint or two.



2. Toto Schillaci and Italy, 1990

As big a legend as Packie Bonner is, that parry from Roberto Donadoni’s shot has to go down as one of the worst of all time. Not only did he keep the ball in play, but his momentum took him so far from goal that Salvatore ‘Toto’ Schillaci had the entire goal to aim at with the rebound.

To lose only 1-0 to the hosts was no disgrace but the manner in which Italy scored still irks many. “Fuck Schillaci” t-shirts can still be bought in Ireland 24 years after the game.



3. Gaizka Mendieta and Spain, 2002

As previously mentioned, Ireland were in the ascendancy against Spain, who went down to ten men in extra time following an injury to David Albelda, but failed to capitalise.

Matt Holland, David Connolly and Kevin Kilbane all missed their penalties in the shoot out and Gaizka Mendieta, at the time one of the most coveted playmakers in Europe, rubbed salt in the wounds by rolling his winning effort straight down the middle as Shay Given dived to his right.



4. Wim Jonk and Holland, 1994

After his howler against Italy in 1990, Packie Bonner was at it again in the second round of USA ’94. The Dutch were already one up through Dennis Bergkamp but it was Jonk’s goal that put the final nail in our World Cup coffin as his tame effort was flapped at by Bonner and dropped into the net.



5. Luis Garcia and Mexico, 1994

Most people remember the game against Mexico for the bust up involving John Aldridge on the sideline as Ireland tried to make a substitution but the damage had already been done with Luis Garcia having bagged a brace to put Mexico two nil up.

As bags of water were thrown to Irish players in the stifling Orlando heat, the more acclimatised Mexicans comfortably claimed three points, even though Aldridge’s late header halved Ireland’s arrears.



What do you remember about Ireland’s three World Cup campaigns? Let us know in the comments section below!

The Author

Neil Sherwin

Co-editor of Writes mostly on Premier League and A-League with contributions to other sites including TheFootballSack, InBedWithMaradona and Bloomberg's BSports. Has featured on The Guardian's Football Weekly.

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