Moral victory may be best on offer for fighting Irish
Heroics on historic scale will be required to topple World Cup holders Germany
Gary Kelly celebrates after scoring for Ireland against Germany in Hanover in 1994, the only occasion that Ireland have beaten holders of world cup. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Happens more often than you’d think, this sort of fixture. Not Ireland v Germany specifically, more Ireland v the like of Germany. Or to put more fine a point on it, Ireland v The World Champions. When the anthems blare out into the Lansdowne Road evening, it will be the 13th time Ireland have faced reigning World Cup holders across our footballing history. So far, the return has been just about as middling as you could hope for.
Since facing West Germany in a friendly in Hamburg away back in 1955, Ireland have played 12 games against the holders of the chunky gold statue, with a record that reads Won 2 Lost 6 Drew 4. Not brilliant, not terrible. Just very, very Ireland.
The victories came at Dalymount Park against the then West Germany in 1956 and in Hanover in the run up to the 1994 World Cup. A crowd of over 50,000 turned up at the Neidersachfen stadium to wave off their heroes before they departed to America to defend the title they’d won in Rome four years previously. A German side filled with names like Lothar Matthäus, Jurgen Klinsmann, Guido Buchwald, Bodo Illgner and Jürgen Kohler – as well as Rudi Völler and Thomas Hassler off the bench – was beaten 2-0 by Jack Charlton’s Ireland side.
Boy, did we think we were onto something back then. In a space of a month, Ireland beat Germany and Holland on their home patches and went off to the States full sure that we could put Italia ’90 in the ha’ penny place. Goals from Tony Cascarino and Gary Kelly did for the Germans to seal what The Irish Times declared was: “A scoreline designed to send ripples of disbelief around the international football world.”
While it didn’t all shake out too well for Ireland come the actual tournament, Germany only ended up going a round further than us – exiting to Bulgaria in the quarter-final. There were rather more ripples of disbelief internationally after that one, it’s fair to say.
But while it was only one of two victories Ireland have had over a world champion side, there has been no shortage of moral ones. That first game in 1955 was one in which Irish Times correspondent Frank Johnstone hailed the team as having “played some glorious football”. “The Germans said afterwards it was the best game they had seen since the world cup final against Hungary and paid many tributes to this gallant Ireland XI. Yes, we have often played worse, and won.”
It was a theme that would become familiar in the years that followed. In 1974, a Johnny Giles-managed Ireland side lost 2-1 in the Maracana to a Brazilian team that, despite being short of the majority of the 1970 generation, could still call upon Rivelino and Jairzinho.
Ireland made it to half-time with the game scoreless, but goals from Rivelino and Leivinha in the 10 minutes after the break put paid to them. Terry Mancini did pull one back with 20 minutes to go, but an equaliser was never on the cards.
Despite the glamour of the opposition, the games have often been stinkers. Diego Maradona came to Lansdowne Road in 1980 and was the only bright point in an otherwise deathly dull 1-0 win for Argentina.
Eight of Brazil’s World Cup final starting 11 came to Dublin on a bitter February night in 2004 and played like they’d rather be anywhere else on earth in a stupefying 0-0.
Oddly enough, however, that Brazil side started a trend that has continued to this day. Every team that has won the World Cup since they did so in 2002 has found themselves facing Ireland somewhere along the way in the four years that followed.
Whereas Italy couldn’t get the better of us in a pair of qualifiers home and away in 2009, Spain had no such problems at the Euros in 2012. Not, for that matter, did we overly extend them in a friendly in New York the following summer.
All of which leads us to this, our second group game against Germany in qualification for Euro 2016. If there were times in Gelsenkirchen when Ireland looked primed for the sort of spanking Spain handed out in Gdansk, John O’Shea’s last- minute equaliser held them at bay.
Anything in that vein tonight and the disbelief will be fairly rippling once more.
IRELAND V THE WORLD CHAMPIONS
West Germany 2 Ireland 1 – Hamburg, May 28th, 1955
Ireland 3-0 West Germany - Dublin, November 25th, 1956
Brazil 2 Ireland 1 – Rio De Janeiro, May 5th, 1974
Ireland 0 Argentina 1– Dublin, May 16th, 1980
Ireland 1 Italy 2 – Dublin, February 5th, 1985
Germany 0 Ireland 2 – Hanover, May 29th, 1994
Ireland 0 Brazil 0 – Dublin, February 18th 2004
Italy 1 Ireland 1 – Bari, April 1st 2009
Ireland 2 Italy 2 – Dublin, October 10th, 2009
Ireland 0 Spain 4 – Gdansk, June 14th, 2012
Ireland 0 Spain 2 – New York, June 11th 2013
Germany 1 Ireland 1 – Gelsenkirchen, October 14th, 2014
Played 12; Won 2; Drew 4; Lost 6