Celebrations, riot police and that handball: A history of Ireland in playoffs

November’s showdown will be the ninth time Ireland have appeared in a playoff encounter

Roy Keane is escorted off the pitch after Ireland were eliminated from the Euro 2000 playoffs by Turkey amid farcical scenes in Bursa. Photo: Tom Honan/Inpho

Roy Keane is escorted off the pitch after Ireland were eliminated from the Euro 2000 playoffs by Turkey amid farcical scenes in Bursa. Photo: Tom Honan/Inpho

 

Ireland’s last three appearances at major tournaments have come via the way of playoffs and, if Martin O’Neill’s men are to make it to Russia next summer, that number will have to become four.

While those three playoffs stand out as memorable occasions when Ireland came out on the best side, there has also been plenty of heartbreak along the way.

Let’s take a look back in time.

November 10th, 1965 – Ireland 0 Spain 1

Ireland’s first playoff appearance was unusual in that it was played over three games and, originally, was supposed to take the shape of a three team group.

After being drawn alongside Spain and Syria in qualification for the 1966 World Cup Ireland’s qualification chances received a boost before a ball was even kicked after the Syrians withdrew in protest at Fifa’s treatment of African teams.

This meant that the group instead became a two-legged play-off between Ireland and Spain.

After Ireland won 1-0 in front of 40,000 people in Dalymount Park, thanks to a Jose Angel Iribar Cortajarena own goal, the Ireland travelled to Seville for the return leg.

The Spanish ran out easy 4-1 victors in that tie but, as aggregate scores didn’t count in those days, the winner would have to be decided by way of a one-off match at a neutral venue.

The FAI and the Spanish FA immediately went into negotiations about where the game should be played with the Irish pushing for a venue in London or Manchester.

The Spanish delegates refused to settle for either suggestion and instead Paris was agreed upon as a compromise.

This didn’t go down well with the Irish players given the difficulty in travelling in 1965. Indeed, the late Pat Dunne later claimed that the FAI only agreed to the venue because the Spanish FA offered them the full gate receipts.

Irish goalkeeper Pat Dunne can only watch as Jose Antonio Ufarte scores the goal which would knock Ireland out of the World Cup and see the Spanish team qualify for the 1966 finals. Photo: Central Press/Getty Images
Irish goalkeeper Pat Dunne can only watch as Jose Antonio Ufarte scores the goal which would knock Ireland out of the World Cup and see the Spanish team qualify for the 1966 finals. Photo: Central Press/Getty Images

Manchester United’s Tony Dunne later vented his frustration at the FAI’s decision, saying: “I had become a winner then, I wanted to win, so you can imagine my disgust when I learned that the Irish officials had agreed to play the game in Paris in return for the gate receipts. It had to be the biggest disappointment of my career because it was certainly the biggest opportunity to qualify in my time, and with the finals in England, who knows what might have happened?”

On Eamon Dunphy’s Irish debut Spain largely dominated the game with Jose Ufarte’s 79th minute strike sealing a 1-0 win for Jose Villalonga’s team.

How they lined out – Ireland: Dunne, Meagan, Brennan, Cantwell, Foley, Dunne, Haverty, O’Neill, Giles, Dunphy, McEvoy.

Spain: Betancort, Rivilla, Olivella, Zoco, Reija, Glaria, Suarez, Ufarte, Pereda, Marcelino, Lepetra.

December 13th, 1995 – Holland 2 Ireland 0

A full 30 years after Ireland’s first playoff experience Jack Charlton took charge of his last game, looking to qualify for a major tournament for the fourth time.

As it was all those years previous the game took place as a one-off match at a neutral venue. This time it would be Anfield.

Ireland were up against it before the game even kicked off as Roy Keane and Steve Staunton both missed out with injuries while Niall Quinn was serving a suspension.

After excellent performances away to Northern Ireland and at home to Portugal in the group stages Ireland probably should not have needed to take the play-off route but a scoreless draw with Lichtenstein and a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Austria condemned them to a tie against a classy Dutch side.

It was a teenage striker by the name of Patrick Kluivert who would make the difference on the night, netting in both halves to secure a 2-0 win for Guus Hiddink’s team.

How they lined out – Holland: Van der Sar, Reiziger, Blind, Bogarde, R. de Boer, Seedorf, Bergkamp (De Kock 58), Davids, Overmars, Kluivert, Helder (Winter 79).

Ireland: Kelly, Kelly, Babb, McGrath, Irwin, Kenna, Townsend (McAteer 51), Sheridan, Phelan, Aldridge (Kernaghan 73), Cascarino.

Ireland fans in Anfield with a suspect number of Ivory Coast flags on show. Photo: Inpho
Ireland fans in Anfield with a suspect number of Ivory Coast flags on show. Photo: Inpho

October 29th, 1997 – Ireland 1 Belgium 1 (first leg)

November 15th, 1997 – Belgium 2 Ireland 1 (second leg)

A late Tony Cascarino goal against Romania in Ireland’s final qualifying group game was enough to pip Lithuania to second place by a point and set up a play-off tie with Belgium.

Mick McCarthy was looking to lead Ireland to the 1998 World Cup in France in his first campaign in charge of the team but he was struggling somewhat to fill the sizeable void left by Jack Charlton.

Ireland made a perfect start to the first leg as well – Denis Irwin firing home a free-kick to give his side an early lead.

But Belgium came back into the game and dominated for the majority of it. Luc Nilis’ precious away goal after 30 minutes put the pressure hugely on Ireland. McCarthy’s team now had to score in the away leg.

Ray Houghton thanks the Irish fans after the playoff loss to Belgium in 1997. Photo: Inpho
Ray Houghton thanks the Irish fans after the playoff loss to Belgium in 1997. Photo: Inpho

And score they did. Ray Houghton’s goal early in the second half made the game 1-1 after Luis Oliveira had given Belgium the lead, but more importantly it discounted the away goal that the Belgians had scored in Dublin.

The game was there for either side to take but it would end in controversial fashion as the officials became the main focus.

With 20 minutes to go Ireland were awarded a throw-in only for Austrian referee Gunter Benko to over-rule his assistant. The Irish defence was caught flat-footed, allowing Nilis to latch onto a cross and tuck the ball past Shay Given to send Belgium to France.

How they lined out – Ireland: Given, Kenna, Cunningham, Staunton, Harte, Kelly, Carsley, McLoughlin (Houghton 49), Townsend (Kelly 87), Kennedy (Connolly 75), Cascarino.

Belgium: De Wilde, De Flandre, Verstraeten, De Boeck, Vidovic (Borkelmans 65), Verheyen, Van der Elst, Claessens, Boffin, Nilis (Goossens 89), Oliveira.

November 13th, 1999 – Ireland 1 Turkey 1 (first leg)

November 17th, 1999 – Turkey 0 Ireland 0 (second leg)

This was Ireland’s third playoff appearance in four years and McCarthy’s team were getting used to it. Unfortunately they were also getting used to the heartbreak that this stage of international competition can induce.

Indeed the fact that Ireland were in the play-offs at all was disappointing after Goran Stavrevski’s 90th minute equaliser in Macedonia on the final day of group stage matches saw Ireland miss out on top spot to Yugoslavia.

Robbie Keane’s goal 10 minutes before full-time in the first leg of the playoff looked to have given Ireland something to hold on to going to Bursa but Lee Carsley was unlucky to concede a penalty when attempting to block a Turkish effort late on. Tayfur stepped up to convert and give Turkey what would be the key goal.

Just 100 Ireland fans managed to make the trip to the remote city of Bursa for the return leg and they failed to see their team ever really threaten the Turks.

The home side were in control for the majority of the game and would have put the tie to bed had it not been for some excellent saves from Dean Kiely.

In the end the game finished in chaos as Tony Cascarino was attacked by Turkish players and fans on the final whistle, sparking a brawl in the middle of the pitch.

The Irish team was frog-marched down the tunnel by riot police at the end of a farcical night when they came up against a lot more than just 11 Turks on the pitch.

How they lined out – Ireland: Kiely, Carr (Kenna 6) (Cascarino 81), Cunningham, Breen, Irwin, Delap, Kinsella, Keane, Kilbane, Quinn, Connolly (Duff 70).

Turkey: Rustu, Ali Eren, Ogun, Alpay, Okan, Tayfur, Tayfun, Abdullah, Arif, Sergen, Hakan Sukur.

Tony Cascarino gets caught up in a brawl at the end of the match in Bursa. Photo: Patrick Bolger/Inpho
Tony Cascarino gets caught up in a brawl at the end of the match in Bursa. Photo: Patrick Bolger/Inpho

November 10th, 2001 – Ireland 2 Iran 0 (first leg)

November 15th, 2001 – Iran 1 Ireland 0 (second leg)

Finally, in their fourth consecutive major tournament appearance, Ireland banished their demons and qualified.

It’s fair to say that the team were coming into this game with a lot of confidence having beaten Holland in Lansdowne Road to pip them to second place. The luck of the draw had also given Mick McCarthy’s side what would be considered one of the easier opponents in the pot and his players took full advantage of it.

The hard work was done in the first leg as Ian Harte and Robbie Keane scored to give Ireland a cushion to take into a game that would see 100,000 fans pack out the Azadi Stadium in Tehran.

Ireland performed well in the opening stages of the second leg, keeping the ball for long periods to subdue the hostile home crowd.

Flares go off in the crowd during the first leg of Ireland’s playoff with Iran in 2001. Photo: Patrick Bolger/Inpho
Flares go off in the crowd during the second leg of Ireland’s playoff with Iran in 2001. Photo: Patrick Bolger/Inpho

Although McCarthy’s team didn’t create any clear-cut scoring opportunities they did manage to stop the hosts from doing so until the final minute when Yahya Golmohammadi headed home a consolation goal.

Ireland were on their way to South Korea and Japan and the biggest story in Irish sporting history was just months away from breaking on the remote island of Saipan.

How they lined out – Ireland: Given, Finnan, Breen, Staunton, Harte, McAteer, Kinsella, Holland, Kilbane (Kelly 82), Connolly, Keane (Morrison 76).

Iran: Mirzapour, Rezaei, Peyrovani, Golmohammadi, Bagheri, Kavianpour, Mahdavikia, Minavand, Nikbakht, Karimi, Daei.

November 14th, 2009 – Ireland 0 France 1 (first leg)

November 18th, 2009 – France 1 Ireland 1 (AET) (second leg)

Need any more be said?

After failing to make even the play-offs for Euro 2004, the 2006 World Cup or Euro 2008 under Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton, Giovanni Trapattoni took the post as Ireland manager.

Quick success was expected of the highly respected Italian and he would have provided, had it not been for a cruel twist of fate.

Ireland went through qualifying unbeaten, eventually finishing six points behind Italy in second place.

Uefa’s last minute decision to seed the play-offs caused much controversy and Ireland were hit hard by the decision, drawing France.

After a deflected Nicolas Anelka shot gave Les Bleus a 1-0 victory in Dublin, many feared that the dream of making the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

But the Irish players weren’t going to give in that easily. What followed was one of the best Irish performances in years as Robbie Keane’s goal saw the Trapattoni’s side beat France 1-0 in Paris.

That sent the game to extra-time and what happened next is history.

With Ireland very much on top of the game France won a free-kick inside the Irish half 13 minutes into the extra period of play.

Florent Malouda’s ball into the box was allowed to bounce and looked to be going out of play but Thierry Henry stuck out a hand to control it before squaring to William Gallas who bundled home.

Ireland were out in the cruellest of fashions, FAI chief executive John Delaney would later make the embarassing request to Fifa that Ireland be allowed in as a 33rd team and it all wound up with Delaney and the FAI receiving a €5 million compensation payment instead.

How they lined out – Ireland: Given, O’Shea (McShane 66), Dunne, St Ledger, Kilbane, Lawrence (McGeady 106), Andrews, Whelan (Gibson 63), Duff, Keane, Doyle.

France: Lloris, Sagna, Gallas, Escude (Squillaci 9), Evra, Diarra, Gourcuff (Malouda 87), Diarra, Henry, Anelka, Gignac (Govou 57).

Henry keeps the ball in with his hand on the way to William Gallas scoring to knock Ireland out. Photo: Sky Sports
Henry keeps the ball in with his hand on the way to William Gallas scoring to knock Ireland out. Photo: Sky Sports

November 11th, 2011 – Estonia 0 Ireland 4 (first leg)

November 15th, 2011 – Ireland 1 Estonia 1 (second leg)

After the chaos of Paris two years previously Ireland deserved some luck in a playoff draw and they got it.

Trapattoni’s side looked to have gotten the best case scenario from the possible opponents and it proved to be so.

Ireland went to Talinn and immediately took the game to the home side. Keith Andrews opened the scoring with a header in the 14th minute before a Jonathan Walters strike and a brace from Robbie Keane sealed a comprehensive win for Ireland.

The home leg was now a formality and became even more so when Stephen Ward latched onto a Kevin Doyle header 30 minutes in to tap home.

Konstantin Vassiljev struck from range in the second half to restore some Estonian pride but the party had already started in Ireland – something Trapattoni was quick to point out afterwards.

“The players deserve to have a party and to drink beer,” the manager said, “but maybe it’s better that I don’t see it.”

How they lined out – Ireland: Given, O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward, Duff (Fahey 79), Andrews, Whelan, Hunt (McGeady 59), Keane (Cox 68), Doyle.

Estonia: Londak, Jaager, Rahn, Klavan, Kruglov, Teniste, Vassiljev, Vunk, Lindpere, Saag, Voskoboinikov.

Ireland players celebrate after Ward opened the scoring in the 1-1 second leg draw against Estonia. Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Ireland players celebrate after Ward opened the scoring in the 1-1 second leg draw against Estonia. Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

November 13th, 2015 – Bosnia & Herzegovina 1 Ireland 1 (first leg)

November 16th, 2015 – Ireland 2 Bosnia & Herzegovina 0 (second leg)

While this wasn’t as fearsome a draw as Ireland had got in previous playoffs, the general consensus was that it would be tougher than the Estonia clash four years previous.

After a loss to Poland in the final group game meant that Ireland finished where most expected us to – third in the group behind the Poles and Germany – the draw pitted Martin O’Neill’s side against the top seeds Bosnia & Herzegovina who boasted the likes of Edin Dzeko, Muhamed Besic and Miralem Pjanic in their ranks.

However, Ireland did have the benefit of being drawn to play the second leg at home.

The opening game in the Bosnian city of Zenica proved to be both memorable and bizarre. During the half-time break a heavy fog fell over the pitch meaning that many fans and journalists in the ground could barely see the action while those back in Ireland were essentially watching a white television screen. It didn’t help either that Ireland were playing in white.

However, in the 83rd minute – with the game locked at a tense 0-0 – Robbie Brady emerged from the fog to fire a shot into the bottom corner and send the travelling Irish fans into raptures, even if it did take a few seconds for everyone to realise what had happened. It was the crucial away goal Ireland needed and gave us something to hold onto going back to Dublin.

Edin Dzeko equalised three minutes later but Ireland had the crucial advantage thanks to Brady's strike and it would prove to be all important at Lansdowne Road.

The second leg proved to be easier than expected with Jonathan Walters first half penalty setting Ireland on their way and knocking the stuffing out of Bosnia.

With 20 minutes to go Walters found the net again, this time with a deft volley from Brady’s cross, and Ireland were on their way to France.

How they lined out – Ireland: Randolph; Coleman, Keogh, Clark, Brady; McCarthy, Whelan (O’Shea 90), Hendrick; Hoolahan (McClean 55), Walters, Murphy (Long 55).

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Begovic; Vranjes, Zukanovic, Spahic , Kolasinac; Medunjanin (Djuric 69), Cocalic (Besic HT); Visca, Pjanic, Lulic (Ibisevic 80); Dzeko.

Brady celebrates scoring in the fog of Zenica. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Brady celebrates scoring in the fog of Zenica. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho
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