Ireland venture to Copenhagen this weekend knowing that they are potentially just 180 minutes away from reaching their first World Cup finals since 2002.
While having the first leg away from home would normally be a good thing, especially for an unseeded team, the fact that Ireland’s away form in qualifying was so much stronger than that at the Aviva (7 points from 9 away to Serbia, Austria and Wales as opposed to just two at home in the reverse fixtures) means that for many, Saturday’s first leg in Denmark will be seen as the time to make some serious headway in the two-legged tie.
Down the years, some of out best performances have come on the road, and here we take a look back on some displays that should give the Boys in Green some optimism for Saturday evening.
Netherlands 2-2 IRELAND (2002 World Cup Qualifier, 2/9/2000)
Beginning their 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign away to the Euro 2000 semi-finalists should have been a daunting prospect, but it’s one that Mick McCarthy’s side launched head-first into. The Netherlands, though without the likes of Jaap Stam and Edgar Davids, and still adjusting to Dennis Bergkamp’s retirement, were still expected to win comfortably and begin their campaign with three points.
So it was their surprise then that they found themselves 2-0 down at home with 25 minutes remaining, courtesy of goals from Robbie Keane and Jason McAteer. The Dutch rallied and eventually leveled the game up at 2-2 but the finest performance in the McCarthy era at that point had set the tone for the rest of the group. One of these sides would be in Korea and Japan just less than two years later – and it wasn’t the team in orange.
France 1-1 IRELAND (AET) (2010 World Cup Play-Off, 14/11/2009)
Although this match will be remembered for all eternity for that Thierry Henry incident, it should not be forgotten that Ireland’ turned in a brilliant performance at the Stade de France, full of the sort of urgency that Giovanni Trapattoni wasn’t known to encourage in this team.
A tie that should have ended after a 1-0 first-leg home defeat was sparked back into life when Robbie Keane put the visitors ahead ten minutes before half time. Indeed, Trapattoni’s side had one or two chances to double their lead before it went to extra time and their dreams were ultimately crushed by…the unpleasantness.
The Boys in Green bowed out while France, if it’s any consolation, finished bottom of their World Cup group in South Africa with just one point (and as many goals) while their campaign descended into utter farce.
Estonia 0-4 IRELAND (Euro 2012 Play-Off, 11/11/2011)
Ireland are rarely known for doing things the easy way, and yet this was about as professional a job as the fans could have asked for. Having found themselves in the rare position of being seeded for the Euro 2012 play-offs, Trap’s side were happy (but still slightly wary) to have drawn Estonia in the play-offs.
They need not have worried. In fact, the nation’s love affair with Jon Walters really began that night in Tallinn, as the then-Stoke forward bagged his first goal for Ireland in what was an unusually routine 4-0 win (with Keith Andrews and Robbie Keane (x2) bagging the other goals). A 1-1 draw at the Aviva four days later was a formality – and fir the first time in a decade, Ireland were heading to a major finals (of which we will never speak again…).
Germany 1-1 IRELAND (Euro 2016 Qualifier, 14/10/2014)
The last time Ireland had been drawn in a group with Germany, a couple of vicious lessons were handed out. With that in mind, Irish fans could have been forgiven for being even more worries about Jogi Low’s side now that they had the World Cup in their back pockets.
What followed was an interesting encounter. Germany huffed and puffed but the Irish rearguard was remaining strong in their usual manner. With Ireland’s attack relatively limited, Toni Kroos must have thought he’d scored the winner with 20 minutes remaining with a drive from outside the area – but the goal actually seemed to jolt Ireland into life as they began to attack the home box.
John O’Shea, making his 100th appearance in an Irish shirt, pushed up as the visitors searched for an equaliser. In the dying seconds of the game, the Sunderland defender got in ahead of Mats Hummels to latch on to a knock-down from Jeff Hendrick, steering the ball past Manuel Neuer and sending the Irish fans into raptures.
Wales 0-1 IRELAND (2018 World Cup Qualifier, 9/10/2017)
The most recent match on this list, and the reason that Ireland are even in Copenhagen right now. With results elsewhere falling into place, both Ireland and Wales knew that a win would be enough to guarantee them a play-off place, but a draw wouldn’t be enough for either.
Wales, without star man Gareth Bale, found Ireland’s defence a tough nut to crack, and Ireland, playing their usual containing game, found chances relatively hard to come by. The only goal of the game came just before the hour mark as James McClean, the breakout name of this qualification campaign, scored the decisive goal to earn Martin O’Neill’s side all three points.
As was the case in the Euro 2016 campaign, an Irish team that had been written off at the halfway stage had pulled a huge result out of the bag and earned one more shot at reaching the finals
In this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish football podcast, we review last week’s FAI Cup final with former Cork City defender Derek Coughlan and look ahead to Ireland’s massive World Cup play-off against Denmark.