IRELAND'S play-off history has never been short of either controversy or drama. Here, Garry Doyle looks at the seven previous play-offs Ireland have been involved in and recalls the good, the bad and the Thierry Henry handball.
1965 – World Cup play-off, Ireland 0-1 Spain, Paris
It could have been so different. Had the FAI not accepted the Spanish FA's offer of £25,000 – a King's Ransom in 1965 – to move the game from 'neutral' London to Paris, then would Ireland have made it to the finals in England a year later? Spain’s supporters packed the Parc des Princes to see the delightfully named Ufarte score the winner. What really stank, though, was the FAI's decision to take the money and run to France.
1995 – European Championship play-off, Ireland 0-2 Holland, Liverpool
Phil Babb competes with Patrick Kluivert, who scored Holland's second goal [Picture: Inpho]
It was Jack Charlton's last waltz and a night that was memorable for three things: Holland's brilliance, Ireland's incompetence and the first, prolonged voicing of the Fields of Athenry at an Irish international. Sung periodically throughout the game and then for five, long minutes after the final whistle, it provided a fitting soundtrack to the end of the Charlton era. Ireland were outclassed by a Dutch team backboned by the Ajax side who had won the Champions League six months earlier. They played well, Ireland – the peerless Paul McGrath aside – did not.
1997 – World Cup two-legged play-off, Ireland 2-3 Belgium on aggregate
Shay Given is consoled by Andy Townsend and Mick Byrne [Picture: Inpho]
David Connolly ended up with a red card, Shay Given ended up in tears, Andy Townsend and Ray Houghton ended up saying farewell to international football and Ireland ended up out. And yet, it was nearly so much better after Houghton, yet again, scored an important goal for his adopted country, an equaliser which offered hope before Luc Nilis punctured the dream ten minutes later. Enter, on 75 minutes, Connolly. And exit on 82 minutes, Connolly, after he was red-carded.
1999 – European Championship two-legged play-off, Ireland 1-1 Turkey on aggregate (Turkey advanced on away goals)
Tony Cascarino had an alteration with Turkish police [Picture: Inpho]
Turkey moved the second leg to Bursa, a provincial town with a small airport which, the cash-strapped FAI, could not fly directly into. Instead, after a journey involving planes, boats and buses, they arrived fatigued and nervy for a game where they needed a 2-2 draw, or better, to advance. Missing Shay Given and the suspended Robbie Keane, they toiled admirably with Dean Kiely proving an effective understudy for Given and Tony Cascarino getting a bust lip in a chaotic fight with the Turkish police afterwards.
2001 – World Cup two-legged play-off, Ireland 2-1 Iran on aggregate
Kevin Kilbane celebrates with Jason McAteer and Matt Holland in 2001 [Picture: Inpho]
After a qualifying tournament when he reached his peak, Roy Keane excelled in the first leg in Dublin but didn't travel for the second part of the journey to Tehran; the prelude to a certain incident in Saipan seven months later. Without him, Ireland still managed to seal the deal. Cue not-so-wild celebrations. While no alcohol was permitted in Tehran ('a dry city'), plenty was consumed on the flight home. "Of all the nights in my career, that is one that stands out," said Steven Reid. "Realising we had achieved something, realising we had made it to a World Cup, that gave you a sense of satisfaction that words can't ever portray. The trip home was unforgettable."
2009 – World Cup two-legged play-off, Ireland 1-2 France on aggregate
Thierry Henry's blatant handball was missed by the referee [Picture: Inpho]
The night of the Swedish referee, the French cheat and the Irish whinge. You may recall the incident. Leading 1-0 on the night, drawing 1-1 on aggregate, Thierry Henry supplied a pass to William Gallas after handling the ball twice in the build-up. The FAI made a lot of noise initially and then went mysteriously quiet until, six years later, John Delaney admitted he received €5million in hush money from FIFA. At 1-0 down from the Dublin leg, Ireland attacked and produced the best performance by an Irish side since the win over Italy at Giants Stadium in 1994. Ultimately it wasn't enough. Henry offered Dunne a hand of friendship after the game. Graciously, he took it. Delaney took a lot more off Sepp Blatter.
2011 – European Championship play-off, Ireland 5-1 Estonia, two legged-play off
Robbie Keane inspired Ireland in 2011 [Picture: Inpho]
When the draw was made, Delaney nearly fell off his chair in laughter. Estonia, who had come from nowhere to reach the play-offs, were abysmal, easily the weakest team available. And Ireland took advantage with Robbie Keane supplying the goals before, in the post-match celebrations, Delaney emerged onto the Tallinn pitch to punch the air in celebration in front of the Irish supporters, becoming an internet sensation in the process.
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