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Dublin: 6°C Wednesday 20 January 2021


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We were back in the Delorean again tonight and this time, the date/time thingamajig was set for 18 June 1994. We landed in Giants Stadium, New Jersey for the Republic of Ireland’s opening group game of the World Cup against Italy.

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the game. E-mail, tweet @thescore_iepost a message to our Facebook wall, or leave a comment below.

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Republic of Ireland 1-0 Italy

Good afternoon and welcome to this evening’s World Cup liveblog. The atmosphere has been building all afternoon around Giants Stadium in New Jersey and finally, it’s time. We’re just minutes away from kick-off in the opening Group E game of this year’s tournament. Tomorrow, Norway and Mexico will do battle but for now, all eyes are on the grudge match. It’s Ireland v Italy and — yes, you guessed it — it’s LIVE!

First things first, here are your teams. We’ll start with the Italians who have Lazio’s Guiseppe Signori up top. He’s only won the golden boot in Serie A for the last two seasons running so there shouldn’t be too much for our lads to worry about.

Italy: Pagliuca, Tassotti, Costacurta, Baresi, Maldini, Donadoni, D Baggio, Albertini, Evani, R Baggio, Signori.

Wow that’s a good side.

And for Ireland, well it’s a little bit of a mish-mash unfortunately. Kevin Moran is out through injury as is Tony Cascarino, which means that Tommy Coyne will be asked to go it alone up top this afternoon. Roy Keane (groin) and Paul McGrath (shoulder) have both passed fitness tests although the whispers here in the Giants Stadium press room — where I’m sitting, obviously — indicate that McGrath can hardly move that left arm. He’ll never last the full 90 if that’s the case.

Alongside the big man at the back, Phil Babb makes his competitive debut for Ireland, and what a time to make it. Has Jack got this one right?

Ireland: Bonner, Irwin, Babb, McGrath, Phelan, Houghton, Staunton, Sheridan, Townsend, Keane, Coyne.

They said we’d be outnumbered here in New Jersey this afternoon — it is Italian country after all — but everywhere I look, it’s a sea of green. There must be over 70,000 people here and most of them are Irish with their big sunburned heads, stupid wigs and inflatable hammers. We know how to party alright.

We’re off. Ireland playing from left to right in this first half. Less than 15 seconds in and Steve Staunton has already had the first shot on goal but it’s not troubling Pagliuca.

The tweets are already starting to come in — funny that considering Twitter doesn’t exist but let’s roll with it.

It’s been a fairly lively start considering the heat — it’s absolutely boiling here in New Jersey, I’m not sure how Ireland are going to cope. Tommy Coyne is already looking a little isolated up front — if this all goes pear-shaped, we can always blame Man City for refusing to release Niall Quinn to the squad.

Paul McGrath does look to be carrying that left arm slightly but it’s not stopping him from sticking tight to Roberto Baggio, even when the Italian drops deeper towards the midfield. The first chants of “Ooh Aah Paul McGrath” ring out around the ground.

Roberto Baggio looks like he’ll have a massive say in how this game develops tonight. He sticks the ball over the top for Signori but the Lazio striker can’t win a footrace against McGrath who shepherds it back to Packie Bonner.

On commentary, Brian Moore reminds us that Jack Charlton was a little bit critical of McGrath’s performance against the Czech Republic, wondering why he wasn’t putting more tackles in. He’ll be happy enough with how the Villa man has started so far tonight, I’d imagine.

GOAL! Republic of Ireland 1-0 Italy (Houghton, 11′) Incredible stuff! Ireland have taken the lead and it’s Ray Houghton — a man who wasn’t even sure of his place on the plane — who has got the crucial goal.

Denis Irwin sticks a long ball up top but under pressure from Tommy Coyne, Alessandro Costacurta can’t quite clear. Neither can Franco Baresi whose header falls into Ray Houghton’s path. He chests it and, without looking up, sticks a sumptuous lob over a stranded Pagliuca. Ireland lead!

This is quite remarkable, Giants Stadium has erupted. Once again at a major tournament, Ireland take the lead — and once again, it’s Ray Houghton who has put the ball in the net. Couldn’t have hoped for a better start but there’s a long way to go.

It looked like there might have been a hint of handball from Houghton in the lead-up to the goal but after seeing the replays, it doesn’t look like it to me.

Ireland have a chance to double their advantage as Steve Staunton whips a ball in behind the Italian defence but it gets caught under Townsend’s feet and it’s simple enough for Pagliuca. Baresi is furious that Townsend wasn’t flagged for offside.

What a block by McGrath as Baggio unleashed a vicious shot from the edge of the box. I’m not sure if that came back off McGrath’s face — he doesn’t look too sure himself to be honest.

We’re just coming up on 25 minutes here and while Italy have plenty of possession, they haven’t really forced a decent save from Bonner yet.

Terry Phelan picks up the first yellow card of the afternoon for a late tackle on Evani. The referees have been issued with a new set of guidelines before this tournament, of course, and players going in off their feet from behind — as Phelan did just there — will have to be careful.

“There’ll be players sent off for that in this tournament,” opines Big Ron Atkinson from the co-commentary position.

Speaking of Terry Phelan, where was he for this team photo before the game? There was some confusion as FIFA officials ordered Ireland to change out of their white strip and into green just as the teams were getting ready to line up in the tunnel — maybe it’s something to do with that?

(Neal Simpson/EMPICS Sport) — h/t @Denis_Hurley

Just under 10 minutes to go until the break and the Italians in the crowd aren’t too happy with Ireland’s attempts to take a breather and hang on to possession. Irwin’s pass back to Bonner is met with a chorus of boos. It’s the heat, innit?

Great defensive header by the debutant Phil Babb who gets back to steer Baggio’s cross away from Signori. He’s settled well and I’ve no doubt there are a couple of big clubs that wouldn’t mind snapping him up from Coventry City.

Whatever about his fitness, McGrath’s reading of the game this afternoon has been sensational. Albertini tries to thread a through ball but McGrath is a step ahead of him and clears it away.

We’re into stoppage time as Baggio tries to lift a ball over the top to Signori but Bonner is alert to the danger. “Olé, olé” rings out around the Giants Stadium.

HALF TIME: Republic of Ireland 1-0 Italy

Match referee Mario van der Ende of the Netherlands doesn’t even play a full minute of additional time and it’s Ireland who lead at the break. Still a long way to go though, and this heat is something serious.

Back in a sec.

We’re just about ready to go again but before we do, it’s competition time. Who wants to win one of these You Boys In Green jerseys from the Euro 88 qualifying campaign?

If there’s no winner, I’m keeping it for myself so I’m making this marginally harder than it should be. To win, name the man pictured here beside Big Jack. I’ve a feeling he might get involved against Mexico next week.

Email with your answer and I’ll pick a name from the hat at full time.

We’re up and running for the second half. One change for the Italians — Milan’s Daniel Massaro comes on to replace Alberigo Evani.

That’s an interesting change by Sacchi. It looks like Signori will push out to the wing in order to accommodate Massaro. There’s a break in play here as Tommy Coyne goes down with a head injury. He’s treated on the pitch and when he gets back up, the referee books him for time wasting. I don’t know if I’ll ever get the hang of these new rules.

Great cross in from the right by Denis Irwin but nobody gambled in the box and Pagliuca gets there comfortably.

My word, Phil Babb, you brave man. The debutant slides in from behind on Dino Baggio in the box and every Irish person in the Giants Stadium closes their eyes. He gets nothing but ball though and knocks it behind for a corner. Well played, sir.

Ireland are under a huge amount of pressure now as Italy swarm forward in search of that equaliser. A free-kick on the edge of the box is rolled to Dino Baggio but his shot is straight at Bonner.

Where was Dino Baggio in the first half? It’s all about him now, not his ponytailed namesake. He looks to get on to the end of a through ball but he can’t outmuscle Denis Irwin and the Corkman slides in to guide it behind for a corner.

Ireland simply cannot hang on to the ball. Charlton must be thinking of a change soon.

The Italians are mad for these little short corners, but I suppose you would be if Ooh Aah Paul McGrath was waiting underneath every ball you put into the box.

Oof, that’s the Italians’ best chance of the evening and it has fallen to that man Beppe Signori. As he breaks into the box, Houghton manages to force him out to an unfavourable angle and Bonner is able to get enough behind the ball to parry it away. Shades of Rome 1990 and Toto Schillaci there but Ireland survive.

Great chance for Ray Houghton who steps on to a breaking ball inside the box and fires in a volley. It’s straight at Pagliuca though and that’s Houghton’s last action of the afternoon. He’s replaced by Jason McAteer who turns 23 today. Happy birthday Jason — hope you’ve many more happy memories in an Irish jersey.

Just under 20 minutes to play here and Ireland are really hanging on here now. Lots of answers coming in for the YBIG jersey as well — keep them coming until full-time.

That really should’ve been a second goal for Ireland and it could have been game over. Roy Keane makes his first forward dart of the game and cuts it back to the penalty spot from the sideline. Tommy Coyne steps over it and THWACK, John Sheridan rattles Pagliuca’s crossbar. An inch or two lower and Ireland are 2-0 up.

We’re into the last quarter of an hour. In the commentary box, Big Ron is full of praise of Tommy Coyne who has given his all as Ireland’s lone striker tonight.

Another chance and another save by Pagliuca. This time it’s Steve Staunton with a header at the back stick. It looked like it might have been drifting wide but Pagliuca takes no chances.

Italy come mooching around the edge of the Irish box again but Roy Keane gets a perfectly-timed tackle in to deny Roberto Baggio. “Robust” is the term, I believe.

Our referee brings play back to book Denis Irwin for a late challenge on Signori. No arguments from Irwin, the ball was long gone by the time he cleared Signori out. Could be a nervy few minutes for him yet.

“I hope the Irish aren’t starting with their celebration songs too soon,” muses Brian Moore as Come On You Boys In Green gets an airing. It’s called support, Brian. Support.

Sacchi makes another change — it’s Signori who is coming off as Nicola Berti replaces him.

Five minutes plus injury time to play. This has been magnificent by Ireland — now can they hang on?

Roberto Baggio is given the time and space to pick off a shot from the edge of the D but it whistles over Bonner’s bar. Staunton could’ve been out to close him down a little bit quicker there.

Daniele Massaro thinks he’s getting around Paul McGrath but the big man has got this one, don’t worry. His tackle is perfect and he even wins a free out for his trouble. He has been immense tonight.

Two minutes to go. This is getting serious…

Phil Babb looks as if he’s two or three foot taller than Roberto Baggio as he towers over the Juve star to win a header. There haven’t been too many stoppages in this second half, time must nearly be up.

Another Irish sub as Charlton looks to chew up every possible second. John Aldridge is on for Tommy Coyne.

Townsend nicks the ball on the half-way line and sprints towards the corner flag. We’re going to do this. We’re actually going to do this. Toto Schillaci, where are you now?

Incredible by Paul McGrath. He gets a crucial block in to deny Daniele Massaro a late chance and then rises highest to win the header from the resulting corner. There are no words for how good he has been tonight.

I’m not sure where the referee is finding all of this time from but we’re now into the fourth minute of stoppage time. Blow it up!

FULL TIME: Republic of Ireland 1-0 Italy


As Joe Dolan once said: “Oh me, oh my!” Ireland have gone and pulled out their major tournament party piece again by causing an early upset. Ray Houghton’s 11th-minute goal is all that separates the teams in this searing East Coast heat and Ireland — until tomorrow afternoon at least — are on top of Group E.

There’ll be a lot of tired bodies out there after that effort in that heat. Thankfully, Ireland have a six-day turnaround before they take on Mexico. After that result, you’d have to fancy Ireland to top the group. John O’Sullivan does anyway.

But where now for Italy? Sacchi’s men were one of the pre-tournament fancies but they’ll really need to up their game if they’re to get out of the group, never mind put together a run in the knockout stages. That Baggio looks a player though and would’ve been a contender for man of the match but for that man wearing the Irish number five — Ooh Aah Paul McGrath. It will be a long, long time before we see another performance like that in a green jersey.

That’s it for us tonight as the Delorean runs out of juice. Tomorrow, it’ll be real live football as Euro 2012 gets underway with the opening two games. Let’s be honest though, they’re not going to have a patch on this piece of history.

Thanks for your emails, tweets and comments.

And congrats to Gordon Mills, winner of the YBIG Euro 88 qualifying jersey. We’ll be in touch.

About the author:

Niall Kelly