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The Road to Italia ’90

Match by match guide to Ireland’s qualification to the World Cup in 1990.

After the euphoria of Euro 88, Ireland received a boost in seeding for the qualifications for 1990 World Cup Finals in Italy. The previous qualification competitions had pitted Ireland against some of Europe’s major powers. For Euro 88, Ireland were drawn against World Cup semi-finalists Belgium as well as Scotland and Belgium. Ireland’s passage to the World Cup in 1986 was blocked by the Soviet Union and Denmark. However, the draw for the World Cup Qualifiers for 1990 gave Ireland their best ever chance of qualifying. While Spain were clear favourites to win the group, Ireland were a team on the rise and were highly fancied to overcome the challenge of the declining Hungary and Northern Ireland.

14/9/88            Northern Ireland 0-0 Ireland
Security concerns dominated the lead up to the opening World Cup match in Windsor Park, Belfast. Tickets for visiting fans from the Republic were restricted to 2,000 out of the 25,000 capacity. All bars in the vicinity of the ground were closed from 3.30 and flags and banners strictly prohibited.

Ireland had a number of injury concerns for the game. Packie Bonner was missing due to back injury that had hampered him since before Euro 88 so Gerry Peyton of Bournemouth took his place. Frank Stapleton, who was without a club following his departure from Ajax, was left out with Kevin Moran, now of Sporting Gijon in Spain, taking the captain’s armband. Jack Charlton had also decided that Tony Galvin, at 32, was now too old for international football and handed his place to Everton’s Kevin Sheedy. Paul McGrath, who seemed destined to move to Tottenham Hotspur at this time, was again deployed in midfield.

The match passed without much incident. Jack Charlton, while inspecting the pitch before the start of the match, was verbally abused by the Northern Ireland supporters. However, Saint Jack was not one to walk away – and decided to go over to the Northern fans to ask for a light for his cigar.

The game itself was as intense as expected. The keypoint of the game occurred after just three minutes. Alan McDonald (of QPR) was booked for a tackle on Kevin Sheedy. From the resultant free-kick, Ronnie Whelan’s shot rebounded off the wall for Chris Hughton to cross the ball to the far post where Tony Cascarino planted a header off the base of the post. The ball skidded along the goal-line before being collected by Alan McKnight in the Northern goal. Cascarino believed he had scored but the referee waved play on. The Republic were rampant in this spell and Cascarino again went close to connecting with a Whelan effort and John Aldridge headed over from close range. Billy Bingham’s men had only one chance of note throughout the 90 minutes when Danny Wilson’s floated free-kick was headed goalwards by Colin Clarke that forced a superb full-stretch save by Gerry Peyton. Ray Houghton forced McKnight into another good save after 51 minutes when the West Ham keeper got down quickly to block his shot. The rebound went straight back to Houghtan who rounded the stranded keeper only to see his second effort cleared off the line by current Shamrock Rovers manager Micheal O’Neill. The game finished 0-0 with the feeling that Ireland had wasted a great opportunity to get one over their neighbours.

Northern Ireland: McKnight, Donaghy, Worthington, McClelland, McDonald, Wilson, Penney, Quinn, Clarke, O’Neill, Black. Sub: Rogan for Donaghy.
Ireland: Peyton, Morris, Hughton, Moran, McCarthy, McGrath, Whelan, Houghtan, Sheedy, Aldridge, Cascarino.

Elsewhere: After their disastrous Euro 88, Bobby Robson was relieved when Neil Webb gave his team a 1-0 win over Denmark in a friendly at Wembley; Ruud Gullit scores the winner as Holland overcome Neville Southall and Wales 1-0; Mo Johnston and Paul McStay set Scotland on their way to Italia 90 with a 2-1 win in Norway.

In The News: South African police kill three hijackers who held 71 people who were travelling to see the Pope; The Archbishop of Dublin encourages the Irish Film Censor to ban the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ”.

On TV: The match was live on both BBC 1 and RTE 2. Elswhere:  Our House, Shogun (RTE1); A Country Practice (RTE2); Knots Landing, Beat The Teacher, Sportsnight (BBC1); Mission Impossible (BBC2); Dogtanian, Blockbusters, Taggart, Midweek Sports Special (UTV); 15-1, Mork & Mindy, Family Ties (CH4)

16/11/88            Spain 2-0 Ireland
Stephen Staunton won his first cap in a friendly against Tunisia on the 19th October (a match in which John Aldridge finally ended his two and a half year Irish goal drought). Impressed by his performance and his deadly left-foot, Charlton made the brave decision to keep him the side for the trip to Seville.  David O’Leary was also recalled to win his 41st Cap and his first since Jack Charlton’s first match against Wales in March 1986.

Spain’s record in qualification tournaments was second to none so not many gave Ireland much chance. Without Paul McGrath, Ronnie Whelan, Liam Brady. Kevin Sheedy and Chris Hughton, Ireland were given one of their most comprehensive beatings in the reign of Jack Charlton. Kevin Moran and John Sheridan were no match for Michel in the midfield battle. The scoreline would have been more damning if it was not for a superb display by Packie Bonner. Within the first 60 seconds he made smart saves from Monolo and Michel. Cascarino had a brief chance after 10 minutes but miscued his header. Ireland bravely held on until half-time but, finally, Roberto released Vasquez down the left and his cross was met on the volley by Manolo. Bonner produced a superb save but the rebound fell kindly for the striker to make it 1-0. Jimenez set up the second when he crossed for Emilio “The Vulture” Butragueno to score from close-range.

Spain: Zubizarreta, Quique, Jimenez, Andrinua, Sanchis, Gorriz, Manolo, Michel, Butragueno, Roberto, Martin Vasquez. Sub: Ramon for Manolo, Solana for Quique.
Ireland: Bonner, Morris, Staunton, McCarthy, O’Leary, Sheridan, Moran, Houghtan, Cascarino, Aldridge, Galvin. Sub: Quinn for Aldrdge, O’Brien for Sheridan.

Elsewhere: More trouble for Bobby Robson as England are held to a 1-1 draw in a friendly against Saudi Arabia.

In The News: The Government win a vital vote on the methods of dispersing of National Lottery Funds; Labour Leader Dick Spring claims that the jury that decided that the three IRA members shot dead in Gibraltar had been lawfully killed had been denied access to key evidence;

On TV: Hotel, The Equalizer (RTE1); Spain v Ireland (RTE2); Going for Gold, Doctor Who; Call My Bluff (BBC2); Give Us A Clue, Des O’Connor Tonight (UTV); Mr Ed (CH4)

8/3/89            Hungary 0-0 Ireland
Ireland were held to a 0-0 draw in a boring game in Budapest in front of 33,000 fans. However, despite the disappointment, Ireland could look forward to a series of home matches that would determine qualification. Hungary had already dropped a point to Malta so Ireland had a great opportunity to pull clear. Jack Charlton was on the receiving end of some severe criticism following this match. Why not include Galvin, Stapleton or O’Leary in his subs? What does he see in Cascarino who was “a long way short of international standard”?. Why wait so late in the game to introduce Liam Brady? Ireland’s best chance came after 27 minutes when Paul McGrath’s overhead kick was well saved by Peter Disztl in the Hungary goal.
Hungary: P Dizstl, Kozma, Sass, L Dizstl, Kovacs, Bognar, Kiprich, Gregor, Mesazaros, Detari, Herizan.
Ireland: Bonner, Morris, Hughton, McCarthy, Moran, McGrath, Whelan, Houghtan, Cascarino, Aldridge, Sheedy. Subs: Brady & Quinn for Aldridge & Cascarino.

Elsewhere: Albania 0-2 England, Scotland 2-0 France.

In The News: Two British soldiers were killed in an IRA landmine attack in Derry.

On TV: The Winds of War, Dear John (RTE1); Hungary v Ireland, Street Legal (RTE2); Albania v England, Dallas, QED (BBC1); Buck Rogers, Rapido (BBC2); Flying Squad (UTV); Thirtysomething (CH4).

26/4/89            Ireland 1-0 Spain
Ireland’s World Cup hopes took a giant leap when they defeated Spain in their first home match of the qualifying campaign. The man who had destroyed Ireland in Seville, Michel, scored an own goal 16 minutes into a tense battle to put Ireland into an excellent position. Tony Cascarino won the ball from Packie Bonner’s long clearance and Ray Houghton crossed low into the six yard box. Michel attempted to cut the ball out before it reached the in-rushing Ronnie Whelan but only managed to stab it past Zubizerreta. Ireland were well deserving of victory after having two goals ruled out. First, Houghtan raced through to score only for a very marginal offside decision to rule it out. Secondly, Paul McGrath volleyed to the net but Cascarino was ruled to have pushed a defender.

Ireland: Bonner, Hughton, McCarthy, Moran, Staunton, Houghtan, Whelan, McGrath, Sheedy, Stapleton, Cascarino. Sub: Townsend for Stapleton.
Spain: Zubizaretta, Quique, Jimenez, Serna, Sanchis, Gorriz, Manolo, Michel, Butragueno, Robert, Vasquez.

Elsewhere: England defeated Albana 5-0 with goals from Garry Lineker, Peter Beardsley (2), Chris Waddle and Paul Gasgoinge. Scotland stay on course with a 2-1 win over Cyprus; The big match in Europe was the 1-1 draw between West Germany and the Netherlands.

In The News: The Government is under pressure following defeat in a Dail debate over funding for AIDS sufferers;

On TV: Two’s Company (RTE1); Ireland v Spain, Murphy’s Law (RTE2); Mysterious Cities of Gold, Wogan (BBC1); Busman’s Holiday, Sporting Triangles (UTV);

28/5/89            Ireland 2-0 Malta
Ireland breezed to a comfortable victory over Malta on the first of two Sunday afternoon matches at Lansdowne Road. Goals in either half from Ray Houghtan and Kevin Moran sent the 49,000 spectators home happy. It now appeared that nothing could stop Ireland from qualifying. The “Che Sera, Sera…We’re Going to Italy” song was belted out by the crowd. World Cup 90 t-shirts were on sale. The fractured relationship between Jack Charlton and Ronnie Whelan took another turn for the worst when Charlton criticised the Liverpool captain (just two days after Liverpool lost the title to Arsenal) for picking up a booking that ruled him out of the following match with Hungary.

4/6/89            Ireland 2-0 Hungary
Kevin Myers, in the Irish Times, announced after this match that “Irish soccer fans are now expecting nothing less than to win the World Cup in Italy next year; even winning a world war or two might not be out of the question”. This victory put Irish football fans into a frenzy. Paul McGrath linked up with Cascarino and Aldridge to shoot wide after 15 minutes. Cascarino earned the growls of frustration of 50,000 people when he failed to control Townsend’s cross in the six yard box. Houghtan then shot wide when sent straight through before Aldridge saw his shot cleared off the line. Then, McGrath finally settled Irish nerves. Staunton’s driven cross was headed clear into the path of McGrath who show low into the bottom corner past Disztel. Hungary had offered precious little but came close to an equaliser in the second half when  Garaba shot from 25 yards but Bonner made a superb save touching the ball onto the post. Ireland sealed the points after 81 minutes when Houghtan set up Cascarino to shoot home.
In The News: Events in China dominate the news. 1400 people are believed dead following student revolts in Tiananmen Square;

On TV: Popeye, Cosby Show, Tops  of the Town (RTE1); Barry Lang Video Request Show, Ireland v Hungary (RTE2); All Creatures Great & Small, That’s Life (BBC1); Iran chose a new Supreme Leader following the death of Ayatollah Khomeni.
11/10/89            Ireland 3-0 Northern Ireland
It’s hard to believe that Lansdowne Road didn’t actually have floodlights until 1995. Therefore, this match kicked-off on a Wednesday afternoon at 1.30pm. Matches in the afternoon had been common in the past – but due to the World Cup frenzy that that gripped the nation – the kick-off time brought the entire country to a standstill. Schools made provisions to allow kids to watch the match while many workplaces simply gave their employees a half-day.

Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham promised “blood and sweat” to prevent a Republic victory and Northern Ireland had a few early chances to cause a shock. Colin Clarke knocked on a long clearance and Michael O’Neill found himself straight through on goal. However, Packie Bonner spread himself to parry the shot and clear. Within 90 seconds the North had another glorious opportunity. O’Neill’s cross was misjudged by Bonner and the ball fell at the feet of Robbie Dennison. However, the Wolves player hesitated with the goal at his mercy and allowed Kevin Moran back to clear. Ireland pushed forward and went ahead after 43 minutes. Steve Staunton sent over a high cross that tempted Linfield goalkeeper George Dunlop from his line. With Cascarino and Aldridge putting him under pressure – Dunlop fisted his clearance to Ronnie Whelan who picked his spot to score. Whelan was the architect of the second goal three minutes after the break. He produced a superb 30 yard pass to Kevin Sheedy who cross for Cascarino to head past Dunlop. The game was over after 55 minutes when Andy Townsend set up Ray Houghtan who squeezed a low daisy cutter past Dunlop from 20 yards.

Elsewhere: Ireland still were not certain of a place in the finals after Hungary came back to draw 2-2 with Spain in Budapest. Ireland needed a point in Malta or else Hungary could qualify if they won in Spain. England qualified for the finals after a 0-0 draw in Poland.

On TV: The Wonder Years, Hooperman, Today Tonight (RTE1); Ireland v N Ireland, Skippy, Jo-Maxi, Degrassi Junior High (RTE2); Poland v England, Around the World with 80 Days (BBC1); Star Test (CH4).

15/11/89            Malta 0-2 Ireland

John Aldridge finally ended his competitive international goal famine to score twice to send Ireland to the 1990 World Cup Finals. 4,000 fans made the trip despite foggy conditions meaning that many flights had been cancelled. Aldridge headed home Kevin Sheedy’s corner in the first half and then converted a penalty in the second half to secure a reasonably comfortable win. Again, as an afternoon kick-off on a Wednesday afternoon – very few people were still working or in a classroom.

Ireland: Bonner, McGrath, O’Leary, Moran, Staunton, Houghtan, Townsend, Whelan, Sheedy, Aldridge, Cascarino. Sub: Morris for Moran.

Colm Murphy
Dundalk FC Magazine.