Ireland gets kick out of booting Italy, 1-0 WORLD CUP 1994

June 19, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Before taking the celebration inside, Jackie Charlton and Packie Bonner interceded with the security force on behalf of a few Irish fans who just had to get

down on the Meadowlands turf.

Ireland handled everything the Italians threw at them yesterday. Who's to say their coach and goalie couldn't talk some of their lads out of having to spend the night in jail?

Charlton orchestrated and Bonner preserved Ireland's 1-0 victory over Italy that would rank as one of the more monumental upsets in World Cup history if the Irish weren't so respected.

Recent victories over defending champion Germany and The Netherlands cast Ireland as a major player in Group E and beyond, but consider this: Yesterday's conquest was its first in seven tries over three-time champion Italy, and its first regulation victory ever in the World Cup.

A latecomer to soccer due to its resistance to anything influenced by the British, Ireland qualified for its first World Cup in 1990, and then played four ties before being eliminated by Italy in the quarterfinals.

"After a couple of days, it will sink in what we've done," said Ray Houghton, a Scot by birth but an Irish international by virtue of his father's ancestors. "I couldn't see the finish though, because all of the lads were jumping on me."

If he wasn't already a national hero in Ireland, Houghton became one early in the 12th minute when he collected his first international goal in five years with a 25-yard shot. Houghton retrieved a misguided header by Italian defender Franco Baresi, momentarily considered dumping the ball off to a teammate but pivoted toward the penalty area, where Italian goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca was cheating out to the goal line.

Houghton's chip over Pagliuca set the surprisingly pro-Irish crowd of 74,826 into a frenzy and allowed Ireland to spend the final 79 minutes doing what it does best: play some of the best defense in the world.

Italy had a 14-8 shot advantage over the final 72 minutes, but Ireland controlled the wings, dominated headballs and allowed Dino Baggio, FIFA's World Player of the Year in 1993, scant space in which to operate. When Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi went with three forwards in the second half, the Irish didn't miss a mark.

"We can't shoot because we couldn't beat their trapping and pressing," Baggio said.

While Ireland celebrated its greatest victory ever, Group E favorite Italy realized that all of its anxiety over the World Cup was well-founded. Sacchi emphasized more attack than his predecessors and started four defensemen who work together on AC Milan, the two-time European Cup champion that he also coaches. But it was the Irish backfield of Paul McGrath, Terry Phelan, Denis Irwin and Phil Babb that was impenetrable.

"When you lose, people make harsh judgments," said Sacchi, readying for the storm of criticism he'll face in the days before Thursday's game against Norway. "The loss will make us reflect on our game plan. We have got to do better in the next two games."

His team seemed to be in a state of denial, but what Daniele Massaro termed a lucky Ireland goal was more a gift courtesy of an Italian mistake or two.

Ireland had two of the best chances in the second half, Houghton barely missing in the 68th minute and John Sheridan hitting the crossbar four minutes later, but Ireland's victory wasn't secure until the 34-year-old Bonner and company turned away a few futile, final tries. Italy's best chance might have been the Giuseppe Signori rocket from the left side that went right at Bonner in the 65th minute.

"It has to be one of the best results in football," said Charlton, whose accomplishments include a key midfield role in England's championship in the 1966 World Cup. "The boys are off tomorrow, so they can enjoy it tonight."

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