Brawls to handballs: The complete guide to Ireland’s playoff history

It took five attempts to win one and there’s been more heartbreak than joy down the years

1966 World Cup

November 10, 1965 (Paris): Republic of Ireland 0, Spain 1 (Jose Ufarte 80).

Ireland's first ever playoff was a peculiar affair, comprising, as it did, of three games against the reigning European champions. A Spanish own goal had given Ireland a 1-0 win at Dalymount Park, but they were trounced 4-1 in the return leg in Seville. But at that stage aggregate results didn't count, so a third game was required to settle the tie. The FAI, no strangers to controversy even back then, turned down the option of playing the game in London after the Spanish FA offered them the gate receipts if it was staged in France. As a result, Spain had the bulk of the support in Paris, although it still took them 80 minutes to get the winning goal through Jose Ufarte.

Ireland: Pat Dunne; Shay Brennan, Tony Dunne, Theo Foley, Noel Cantwell (capt); Mick Meagan, Eamon Dunphy, John Giles; Andy McEvoy, Joe Haverty.

1996 European Championships

December 13th, 1995 (Liverpool): Republic of Ireland 0, Netherlands 2 (Patrick Kluivert 30, 88).


In what proved to be Jack Charlton's final game in charge, two goals from teenage striker Patrick Kluivert decided the playoff at Anfield. Ireland were weakened by the absence of the injured Roy Keane and Steve Staunton and the suspended Niall Quinn, and were hit again when Andy Townsend limped out of the game soon after half-time, but despite the Netherlands' superiority it wasn't until the 88th minute that Kluivert sealed their victory. The fond farewell given to a tearful Charlton at the end by the huge Irish support was the most vivid memory from the night.

Ireland: Alan Kelly; Gary Kelly, Paul McGrath, Phil Babb, Denis Irwin; Jeff Kenna, Andy Townsend (Jason McAteer, 51 mins), John Sheridan, Terry Phelan; John Aldridge (Alan Kernaghan, 72 mins), Tony Cascarino.

1998 World Cup

October 29, 1997 (Lansdowne Road) – First leg: Republic of Ireland 1 (Denis Irwin 7), Belgium 1 (Luc Nilis 30).

November 15, 1997 (Brussels) – Second leg: Belgium 2 (Luis Oliveira 25, Luc Nilis 68), Republic of Ireland 1 (Ray Houghton 58).

Belgium won 3-2 on aggregate.

Having finished 10 points behind Romania in their qualifying group, in what was Mick McCarthy's first campaign as manager, Ireland were left needing to beat Belgium in the playoffs to make it to France '98. Luc Nilis proved to be the heartbreaker, equalising for the Belgians in Dublin after a Denis Irwin free-kick had given Ireland the lead, before getting the winner in Brussels after Ray Houghton had cancelled out Luis Oliveira's opener. It was both Houghton and Andy Townsend's last appearance for Ireland.

First leg: Shay Given; Gary Kelly, Kenny Cunningham, Steve Staunton, Ian Harte; Ray Houghton, Andy Townsend (Lee Carsley, 74 mins), Mark Kennedy (Jeff Kenna, 33 mins); David Connolly (Tommy Coyne, 81 mins), Tony Cascarino.

Second leg: Shay Given; Jeff Kenna, Kenny Cunningham, Steve Staunton, Ian Harte; Gary Kelly, Lee Carsley, Alan McLoughlin (Ray Houghton 49), Andy Townsend (David Kelly, 87 mins), Mark Kennedy (David Connolly, 75 mins – sent off, 82 mins); Tony Cascarino.

2000 European Championships

November 13th, 1999 (Lansdowne Road) – First leg: Republic of Ireland 1 (Robbie Keane 78), Turkey 1 (Tayfur Havutcu 83).

November 17th, 1999 (Bursa) – Second leg: Turkey 0, Republic of Ireland 0.

Turkey won on away goals.

A calamitous equaliser for Macedonia by Goran Stavrevski seconds from time in Skopje had cost Ireland automatic qualification for Euro 2000, Yugoslavia finishing a point clear at the top of the group. Turkey, then, were the playoff opponents, another late goal, this time Tayfur Havutcu's 83rd-minute penalty that snuck a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Dublin, proving to be the decisive score in the tie. A 0-0 draw in Bursa, which ended with the mother of all brawls, saw the Turks go through to Euro 2000, which was co-hosted by the Netherlands and Belgium.

First leg: Alan Kelly (Dean Kiely, 60 mins); Stephen Carr, Gary Breen, Kenny Cunningham, Denis Irwin; Rory Delap (Damien Duff, 55 mins), Lee Carsley, Roy Keane, Kevin Kilbane; Tony Cascarino (David Connolly, 75 mins), Robbie Keane.

Second leg: Dean Kiely; Stephen Carr (Jeff Kenna 6 mins; Kenna replaced by Tony Cascarino, 81 mins), Kenny Cunningham, Gary Breen, Denis Irwin; Rory Delap, Mark Kinsella, Roy Keane, Kevin Kilbane; Niall Quinn, David Connolly (Damien Duff, 70 mins).

2002 World Cup

November 10th, 2001 (Lansdowne Road) – First leg: Republic of Ireland 2 (Ian Harte pen 45, Robbie Keane 51), Iran 0.

November 15th, 2001 (Tehran) – Second leg: Iran 1 (Yahya Golmohammadi 91), Republic of Ireland 0.

Ireland won 2-1 on aggregate.

Hallelujah, Ireland finally won a playoff – at their fifth attempt. Although it's probably best remembered for Roy Keane's non-appearance in the second leg and how his absence became something of an issue when the team landed in a place called Saipan the following year. A well-deserved qualification, though, having finished level on points with Portugal in their group and ahead of the Dutch. After a 2-0 win in Dublin, Mick McCarthy's side survived a decidedly hostile trip to Tehran where the second leg was played in front of a crowd of 100,000. Iran pulled a goal back at the death, but Ireland survived.

First leg: Shay Given; Steve Finnan, Gary Breen, Steve Staunton (Kenny Cunningham, 75 mins), Ian Harte; Jason McAteer (Gary Kelly, 83 mins), Roy Keane, Matt Holland, Kevin Kilbane; Niall Quinn, Robbie Keane.

Second leg: Shay Given; Steve Finnan, Gary Breen, Steve Staunton, Ian Harte; Jason McAteer, Mark Kinsella, Matt Holland, Kevin Kilbane (Gary Kelly, 85 mins); David Connolly, Robbie Keane (Clinton Morrison, 75 mins).

2010 World Cup

November 14th, 2009 (Croke Park) – First leg: Republic of Ireland 0, France 1 (Nicolas Anelka 72).

November 18th, 2009 (Paris) – Second leg: France 1 (William Gallas 103), Republic of Ireland 1 (Robbie Keane 32).

France won 2-1 on aggregate.

It was 0-0 with 18 minutes to go at Croke Park when Nicolas Anelka's effort from the edge of the box deflected off Sean St Ledger and past Shay Given. France, then, left Dublin with a 1-0 win from the first leg of the playoff, and there was hardly a soul on earth who gave Ireland a chance of turning it around in Paris. They came mighty close, though, in what was their finest Irish performance in Giovanni Trapattoni's reign, Robbie Keane levelling the tie on 31 minutes before William Gallas got the winner for the home side in extra time, Thierry Henry having a, eh, hand in the goal.

First leg: Shay Given; John O'Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger, Kevin Kilbane; Liam Lawrence (Stephen Hunt, 80 mins), Glen Whelan, Keith Andrews, Damien Duff (Aiden McGeady, 76 mins); Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle (Leon Best, 71 mins).

Second leg: Shay Given; John O'Shea (Paul McShane, 67 mins), Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger, Kevin Kilbane; Liam Lawrence (Aiden McGeady, 107 mins), Glen Whelan (Darron Gibson, 63 mins), Keith Andrews, Damien Duff; Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle.

Euro 2012

November 11, 2011 (Tallinn) – First leg: Estonia 0, Republic of Ireland 4 (Keith Andrews 13, Jon Walters 67, Robbie Keane 71, 88 pen).

November 15, 2011 (Aviva Stadium) – Second leg: Republic of Ireland 1 (Stephen Ward 30), Estonia 1 (Konstantin Vassiljev 57).

Ireland won 5-1 on aggregate.

A 10-year gap since they last qualified for a major tournament all but ended in the first leg in Tallinn when Ireland cruised to a 4-0 win over Estonia, a Robbie Keane double, added to earlier goals from Keith Andrews and Jon Walters making the second leg something of a formality. And so it proved, Stephen Ward making it 5-0 on aggregate before the Estonians got themselves a consolation score. Giovanni Trapattoni had, then, ended the qualifying drought, Ireland sealing their place at Euro 2012, which was co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine.

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

Second leg: Shay Given; John O'Shea, Sean St Ledger, Richard Dunne, Stephen Ward; Damien Duff (Keith Fahey, 79 mins), Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews, Stephen Hunt (Aiden McGeady, 59 mins ); Robbie Keane (Simon Cox, 67 mins), Kevin Doyle.

Euro 2016

November 13, 2015 (Zenica) – First leg: Bosnia and Herzegovina 1 (Edin Dzeko 85), Republic of Ireland 1 (Robbie Brady 82).

November 16, 2015 (Aviva Stadium) – Second leg: Republic of Ireland 2 (Jon Walters 24 pen, 70), Bosnia and Herzegovina 0.

Ireland won 3-1 on aggregate .

The real hero of the first leg in Zenica was George Hamilton who was tasked with commentating on a game he could barely see thanks to heavy fog. Somewhere in the middle of the gloom, Robbie Brady gave Ireland the lead eight minutes from time, but Edin Dzeko levelled three minutes later to set up a nervy return leg. But it went smoothly enough for Martin O'Neill's side, this time Jon Walters proving to be the hero, opening the scoring with a first-half penalty – a highly controversial one – before volleying home on 70 minutes. And with that Ireland's place in Euro 2016 was sealed.

First leg: Darren Randolph; Séamus Coleman, Richard Keogh, Ciaran Clark, Stephen Ward (Marc Wilson, 67 mins); James McCarthy, Glenn Whelan, Jeff Hendrick, Wes Hoolahan (James McClean, 60 mins), Robbie Brady (Aiden McGeady, 86 mins); Daryl Murphy.

Second leg: Darren Randolph; Séamus Coleman, Richard Keogh, Ciaran Clark, Robbie Brady; Glenn Whelan (John O'Shea, 91 mins), James McCarthy, Jon Walters, Wes Hoolahan (James McClean, 54 mins), Jeff Hendrick; Daryl Murphy (Shane Long, 55 mins).

2018 World Cup

November 11, 2017 (Copenhagen) – First leg: Denmark 0, Republic of Ireland 0.

November 14, 2017 (Aviva Stadium) – Second leg: Republic of Ireland 1 (Shane Duffy 6), Denmark 5 (Andreas Christensen 29, Christian Eriksen 32, 63, 74), Nicklas Bendtner (90 pen).

Denmark won 5-1 on aggregate.

After a commendable scoreless draw in Copenhagen, things were looking mighty fine in Dublin when Shane Duffy headed home Robbie Brady's free after just six minutes, Ireland's first World Cup qualification in 16 years looking within reach. Thereafter, though, it turned in to a nightmare, largely thanks to a hat-trick from Christian Eriksen. It would have been a great deal worse only for some fine saves from Darren Randolph, but three Danish goals in the last half hour completed a miserable evening and ended hopes of a place in Russia 2018.

First leg: Darren Randolph; Cyrus Christie, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, Stephen Ward; Jeff Hendrick (Conor Hourihane, 93 mins), Harry Arter (Glenn Whelan, 88 mins), Callum O'Dowda, Robbie Brady, James McClean; Daryl Murphy (Shane Long, 74 mins).

Second leg: Darren Randolph; Cyrus Christie, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark (Shane Long, 71 mins), Stephen Ward; Jeff Hendrick, David Meyler (Wes Hoolahan, 45 mins), Harry Arter (Aiden McGeady, 45 mins), Robbie Brady, James McClean; Daryl Murphy.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times