Thursday, June 17, 2010

World Cup Memories - 1990, 1994, and 1998

At last - Ireland had qualified for the World Cup finals. With much anticipation, we all looked forward to the matches and there was great excitement and colour all over the country, with flags and banners everywhere. Nobody thought Ireland would be serious contenders, but we were in a group with England, Holland and Egypt - and as there were 24 teams in the finals, there was a possibility that three teams might qualify from our group (which happened).

The opening 1-1 draw with England (who went on to the semi-final) meant that we were in with a chance of qualifying. However, the boring 0-0 draw with Egypt reduced the chances unless we could get a result against Holland. Thanks to van Breukelen for dropping the ball for Niall Quinn's goal, and the Gullit/McCarthy agreement to settle for a draw shortly afterwards - we made it though to the next round. An unbelievably boring 0-0 draw with Romania (who should have won) meant a penalty shoot-out, with Packie Bonner and David O'Leary becoming legends to send Ireland through to the quarter finals. Toto Schillaci ended Ireland's World Cup - but it was a wonderful time to be Irish.

My main memories of Italia 90 were the celebrations in O'Connell Street after the win over Romania, the controversy over Eamon Dunphy, Big Jack, Dearg Doom, Packie's save, O'Leary's winner, a poor final with Maradona in tears at the end, England's agony at loosing to Germany in a penalty shoot-out, and of course Gazza's tears.

In 1994, Ireland once again qualified and opened up with a stunning win over (eventual finalists) Italy. Things went downhill after that with an eventual meek exit at the hands of the Dutch. Not much for the Irish to remember, but it was an eventful tournament nonetheless.

Things to remember: Ray Houghton's goal vs Italy, Baggio's pony-tail, Baggio's miss in the penalty shoot out in the final, a boring 0-0 draw in the final, Roy Keane emerging as a quality player, Maradona testing positive for drugs - probably drawing suspicion upon himself by running at TV camera after scoring against Greece,  an incredible free-kick goal from Hristo Stoichov of Bulgaria, and a Brazil win again for the first time since 1970.

France 1998 did not feature the Irish, even thought there were now 32 teams in the finals. The group stages were for me, not much of a thrill, but the competition opened up in the knockout stages. By them. Roma, the girls, and I were on holiday in Minorca. While we were having a lovely holiday, I tried my best to balance footie and family. On the day Argentina played England in the first round of the knockout stages, we were in Mahon for dinner. Everywhere I looked - TVs were playing the match. But just like in 1986, I put family first - and skipped the match. However, on our return to our apartment I noticed that the game was still on and that extra time must be being played. Once again I was "allowed" to go watch the footie, and I headed to the bar to watch most of the extra time. I had missed Michael Owen's spcetacular goal, and David Beckham's sending off. Lots of England fans in the pub really made for an excellent atmosphere - though this may have been something to do with me arriving stone-cold sober into a bar late at night.

Things to remember: What happened to Ronaldo for the final, the Marseillaise, Zidane's two goals, celebrations on the Champs Elysees, a drunken Dundalk man shouting "Belgrano" at the end of the Argentina vs England match, fantastic England fans cheering their team in the pub, some of the same  England fans crying in the pub later, lots of penalty shoot-outs, and of course - peroxide blonds from Romania.

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