Irish miracle with no coach, no goals WORLD CUP 1994

June 29, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The match had been over for 20 minutes, and there was still a sea of green inside Giants Stadium.

Finally, Irish coach Jack Charlton walked out, and the place exploded. Fans waved flags. They repainted their faces. They drank green beer, rum, whiskey. . . .

Imagine if their team had won.

Ireland drew with Norway, 0-0, yesterday before a partisan Irish crowd of 76,322 and advanced to the second round of the World Cup, where it will meet the winner of Group F Monday in Orlando, Fla.

"A lot of people don't understand where this program started and where it is now," said Charlton, who had to coach the game from the main stand via telephone with assistant Maurice Setters. He was serving a one-game suspension for "ill-mannered behavior" during Friday's 2-1 loss to Mexico.

"We had a couple of scares and they had a couple of scares, but it's over now and we're delighted," said Charlton. "I feel sorry for Norway, because four points usually gets you into the second round, but this isn't your typical group."

It's Group E, also known as the Group of Death, the most talented of the six. All four teams ended with 1-1-1 records, but Mexico is in first place because it scored three goals and allowed three. Italy and Ireland each scored and allowed two goals, but Ireland finished second because it beat Italy, 1-0.

Mexico tied Italy, 1-1, yesterday in Washington, leaving Italy in third place but with a second-round spot that was secured when Russia crushed Cameroon, 6-1.

As for Norway, making its first World Cup appearance since 1938, it's time to go home. Norway scored only one goal and allowed one.

"Obviously, we're disappointed," said coach Egil Olsen. "We knew all the time we had to play hard to win, but we did not play a good game until the second half. We played in the toughest group with experienced teams like Mexico and Italy."

Ireland had been considered the equivalent of a third-division team until Charlton became coach in 1986. He has built this team by using fast, strong midfielders coupled with an intimidating, bruising defensive style.

Ireland made it to the 1990 World Cup with some inexperienced players, but now veterans such as defender Kevin Moran, 37; midfielders Ray Houghton, 32, and Paul McGrath, 34; and forwards Tony Cascarino, 31, and John Aldridge, 35, have become the backbone of the team.

Charlton, an Englishman who won a World Cup medal in 1966, also brought in some of his countrymen. All but two of the Irish players play in England, and only seven were born in Ireland, but the rest qualify though parentage. One of the standard soccer jokes is that Ireland has a better English team than England.

Ireland came out strong offensively, a tactic that seemed to catch the Norwegians off guard. Norway wanted to press the attack, inserting striker Goran Sorloth and midfielder Kjetil Rekdal into a starting lineup that is usually loaded with defensive players.

"We couldn't get ourselves into the game in the first half because Ireland didn't let us get the ball," said Rekdal. "In the second half, we did more attacking."

But not enough to do any damage. Sorloth had the best opportunity, a shot that spun off the top crossbar at the 75th minute.

"One goal, and we're still in this thing, huh?" said Rekdal.

One goal, and maybe the Norwegian fans, a large contingent from Brooklyn, N.Y., would have been chanting for Olsen after the game. They came dressed in Viking hats, a few wearing woolen sweaters.

Norway has done well with the heat wave in the United States. During the Winter Olympics in Norway, the Norwegian soccer team had to wait for bulldozers to clear the parking lots before it could practice.

They wore extra clothes back home at practice to prepare for the heat.

"It would have been more disappointing if we had lost three and had to be smuggled back to Oslo," said goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt. "But we can go back and hold our heads high, considering the group we were in and the conditions we faced."

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