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Suwon revisited: Mendieta’s penalty breaks Irish hearts

The player who sent Mick McCarthy’s team home from World Cup 2002 gives his account of the last meeting between Ireland and Spain.

Niall Quinn consoles David Connolly after his missed penalty at the 2002 World Cup.
Niall Quinn consoles David Connolly after his missed penalty at the 2002 World Cup.
Image: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport

HAVING BEATEN HOLLAND at Lansdowne Road thanks to ‘that‘ Jason McAteer goal, Ireland come through a tricky play-off with Iran to qualify for their first major competition since USA ’94.

The build-up to Japan & South Korea is marred by one of the biggest stories in Irish sporting history (don’t mention the ‘S’ word), meaning the team go into Group E without their captain and best player.

There’s a togetherness about Mick McCarthy’s side however, and a spirited draw with Cameroon is followed by a late late show against the Germans – Robbie Keane rifling past Oliver Kahn on 92 minutes.

Even Gary Breen gets in on the action as Ireland record a comfortable 3-0 win against Saudi Arabia in their final game.

A runner-up berth lands them a second round meeting with Group B winners Spain. Traditionally seen as perennial underachievers, Jose Camacho’s men are intent on shaking off that mantle and have beaten Slovenia, Paraguay and South Africa with a squad boasting household names like Fernando Hierro, Luis Enrique and Raul.

38,926 descend upon South Korea’s Suwon Stadium, the vast majority of which are members of the Green Army, for the all-or-nothing tie on June 16.

Spanish midfielder Gaizka Mendieta enters the fray 66 minutes in and will be remembered as the man who broke Irish hearts.

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Mendieta in chase of Damien Duff. Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Archive/Press Association Images

This is his first-hand account of a cruel ending to the 2002 World Cup campaign:

I remember it being a very tight game. You always expect World Cup games to be difficult and we knew it would be physical with Ireland but it was probably too tight from our perspective. Ireland did very well and were unlucky when Ian Harte missed that penalty.

Shay Given was excellent that night as was Robbie Keane. The big striker who came on (Niall Quinn) also caused us a lot of trouble.

They were a man up in extra-time and somehow I feel they didn’t take advantage of that. Maybe they should have tried to go for the game more and make the most of the opportunity. I remember us sitting back and thinking back now they should have tried to go for it.

Penalty shootouts are always quite cruel but there has to be a winner. I wouldn’t call the other team a loser because the way it happens is pretty unfair.

Every team has got two or three penalties-takers. Then during a competition like that you practice in training and the manager comes up with a list of candidates to take them.

When it actually comes down to it, and you are called to step up on the pitch, some people might not feel as confident, however. Fair enough if they don’t feel like taking it as, at the end of the day, it’s about confidence. But that wasn’t the case in this match… everyone we had on the list took his penalty.

The first thing I’ll say is that we were lucky, which is important.

You feel so focused during the game on who’s taking the penalty, how he takes it, you’re looking at the goalkeeper, you’re looking at your players.

When Casillas saved a couple it was unbelievable but you can’t celebrate because it’s too early. All those emotions are running through you and I was the last one to take one for Spain.

There’s going to be extra pressure, but that’s only normal.

I was just thinking of the ball, the penalty and how I am going to take it. It might sound unreal but it’s true that you don’t hear anything (around the stadium). All that was in my head was the ball and the goalkeeper.

So when I scored, it was all those feelings came rushing out. I remember thinking that we’ve made it.

I didn’t speak to any of the Irish players but just shook their hands. Unfairly, people concentrate on the last kick-taker and forget about what has just happened before.”

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This article was originally published on TheScore.ie here.

About the author:

Ben Blake

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