The Agony and the Ecstasy: Ireland’s play-off second leg history

From losing out in Brussels in 1997 to the joy of Euro qualification in Dublin in 2011

Belgium 2 Rep of Ireland 1

1998 World Cup, France Brussels, November 11th, 1997

After one-legged playoffs in 1965 and 1995, Ireland’s first over two games saw a trip to Belgium after a 1-1 draw in the first leg. That Belgian away goal in Lansdowne Road meant that Ireland needed to score in the second leg. 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 heartbreak was to follow when Luc Nilis found the net with 20 minutes to go to send the Belgians to the World Cup finals in France.

Turkey 0 Rep of Ireland 0


Euro 2000, Belgium & Netherlands Bursa, November 17th, 1999

This was a game with an ugly side. After a 1-1 draw in Dublin, Ireland were faced with an identical situation as the Belgium play-off two years previous. Just 100 Ireland fans managed to make the trip to the remote city of Bursa in north-western Turkey to watch 90 minutes where Ireland never really threatened. 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. For the third consecutive qualifying campaign Ireland were pipped in the playoffs.

Iran 1 Rep of Ireland 0

World Cup 2002, Japan & Korea Tehran, November 15th, 2001

The team's fortunes had to change and, finally, they did. With Mick McCarthy at the helm and relations between manager and Roy Keane not quite at breaking point yet, Ireland got all of the hard work done in the first leg, winning 2-0. 100,000 fans packed out the Azadi Stadium in Tehran as McCarthy's team managed to do enough to keep out the Iranians until Yahya Golmohammadi headed home a consolation goal in the final minute.

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

France 1 Rep of Ireland 1 (AET)

World Cup 2010, South Africa Paris, November 18th, 2009

Do we need to go over this again? After a deflected Nicolas Anelka side 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 Boys in Green 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 extra-time. 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.

Rep of Ireland 1 Estonia 1

Euro 2012, Poland & Ukraine Dublin, November 15th, 2011

The hard work in this one had been done in Tallinn with a superb performance which saw Ireland run out 4-0 winners. 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.

Ruaidhrí Croke

Ruaidhrí Croke

Ruaidhrí Croke is a sports journalist with The Irish Times