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Dublin: 8°C Sunday 25 October 2020

The good, the bad and the Macedonia: 5 more Irish qualification deciders

Join us on a trip down memory lane as we look back at the final days of some of Ireland’s previous campaigns.

1-1: the scoreline that sealed Ireland's qualification for USA 94.
1-1: the scoreline that sealed Ireland's qualification for USA 94.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

HERE WE ARE again — the final day of a qualification campaign and it’s all still up for grabs.

A point against Armenia will be good enough to see us through to a play-off, but tonight’s visitors have repeatedly shown themselves to be no mugs and the collective nerves of the Irish populace have kicked in accordingly.

We’ve been here plenty of times before, with mixed results.

To get you in the mood for tonight — or to make you more apprehensive than is strictly necessary — here’s a run-down of five of the best.

Republic of Ireland 2-0 Bulgaria (Euro 88)

What happened: In Jack Charlton’s first qualification campaign, Ireland went into their final group game with their fate completely unknown.

With only one automatic qualification place up for grabs and the teams closely bunched at the top, even a win over Bulgaria in Dublin would not guarantee top spot.

Second-half goals from Paul McGrath and Kevin Moran upheld Ireland’s part of the bargain, but it was only four weeks later when Gary Mackay popped up with an 87th-minute winner for Scotland in Sofia that Ireland booked their first trip to a major tournament.

Key moment: Given the way the group unfolded, the moment of destiny didn’t even involve Ireland. I can’t imagine that Gary Mackay has had to put his hand in his pocket too many times in this country since.

The headline: “Irish character proves decisive in tense battle” (Irish Times, 15 October 1987)

Malta 0-2 Republic of Ireland (World Cup 1990)

What happened: The scheduling gods on the road to Italia 90 were kind to Ireland. With qualification firmly in their own hands, they travelled to face bottom side Malta in Valetta knowing that a win would see them through. In the end, a single point would have sufficed as Spain thumped Hungary in Seville, but it mattered not as John Aldridge struck either side of the break to give the boys in green a comfortable 2-0 win.

Key moment: There could hardly have been a better time for Aldo to score his first competitive goal for Ireland. His far post header on the half-hour mark settled Irish nerves and set the country on the road to Rome.

The headline: “The green dream machine! Aldridge’s two goals pave way to Italy” (Irish Independent, 16 November 1989)

Kevin Sheedy celebrates with John Aldridge (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

Northern Ireland 1-1 Republic of Ireland (World Cup 1994)

What happened: As had happened four years previously, Ireland went into the final day of qualification as masters of their own destiny. A win against Northern Ireland in Windsor Park would do the trick but one eye was also on Seville where Spain could find themselves doing Ireland a favour once more.

Jimmy Quinn’s strike 17 minutes from time looked to have broken Irish hearts but Alan McLoughlin fired home three minutes later to earn a point. Spain upheld their part of the bargain with a 1-0 win over Denmark; Ireland were back in the big leagues once again.

Key moment: McLoughlin’s 76th-minute strike. Without it, there would have been no trip to America and no Italian job in Giants Stadium.

The headline: “Next stop America: McLoughlin’s first goal sends the Republic to the World Cup finals” (Irish Times, 18 November 1993)

FYR Macedonia 1-1 Republic of Ireland (Euro 2000)

What happened: Skopje, the graveyard of Irish dreams.

With Yugoslavia only able to manage a point against Croatia in Zagreb, a win against Macedonia would have sent Ireland through to Euro 2000 as group winners. A costly lapse in concentration allowed Goran Stavrevski to equalise deep into injury time however, forcing Mick McCarthy’s men into a rather unattractive two-legged playoff against Turkey. Which they lost, naturally.

Key moment: Goran Stavrevski’s 94th-minute header. When did defending go out of fashion?

The headline: “Night of crude mugging leaves its scars” (Irish Independent, 11 October 1999)

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Switzerland (World Cup 2006)

What happened: Qualification was once again in our own hands in October 2005. This time however, there was no get out of jail free card. Only a win would do at home to Switzerland; a tough task, but far from impossible.

In what turned out to be Brian Kerr’s final game in charge, Ireland looked completely lacking in ideas and had to settle for a dispiriting 0-0 draw and with it, the ignominy of a fourth place finish.

Key moment: There hardly was one. Steven Reid did have a shot tipped over the bar by Zuberbuhler late on, but that was as close as Ireland came to the goal which they needed.

The headline: “Ireland run out of steam and ideas” (Irish Times, 13 October 2005)

A dejected Matt Holland after the game (©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan)

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About the author:

Niall Kelly

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