Following the drama and excitement of Italia 90′ the Republic of Ireland failed to make it to the European Championships in Sweden but bounced back in real style to qualify for the World Cup in USA 1994.

Republic of Ireland football was at an all time high after the heady days of Cagliari, Genoa and Rome in that never to be forgotten summer of 1990. Many Irish fans fully expected the team that Jack Charlton built to build on the achievement of making it to their first World Cup and easily qualify for the next two tournaments.

Reality bites however and none more so than when it comes to international football as Ireland failed to make it to the European Championships in Sweden despite completing an unbeaten qualifying campaign. Jack Charlton and his Irish squad had little time to wallow in self pity though as they began the long road to USA 1994 and qualification for a second consecutive World Cup.

EURO 92′ HANGOVER

October 17th 1990 was the date the Republic of Ireland returned to competitive action following their summer exploits in Italy. A John Aldridge hat-trick inspired his country to a comfortable 5-0 win over Turkey at a packed Lansdowne Road in the opening Euro 1992 Group 7 qualifier.

A Paul Gascoigne-less England arrived in November and Tony Cascarino cancelled out David Platt’s opener in a tight 1-1 draw. The return leg in Wembley the following March resulted in the same 1-1 score line with Niall Quinn popping up to equalise Lee Dixon’s earlier strike.

Despite dominating for long periods Charlton’s team wasted a succession of glaring opportunities to win the game. Missing chances was a trait repeated throughout the remainder of the campaign and ultimately cost Ireland their qualification for Sweden.

A crazy 3-3 draw away to Poland in October 1991 proved decisive as a point garnered by England in the same Poznan Stadium a month later sealed Graham Taylor’s side’s progression to Euro 92.

Ireland finished runners-up behind England with a record of two wins, four draws and no defeats from their campaign so Jack Charlton’s squad would frustratingly have to sit out Sweden 92′ – despite remaining undefeated – before beginning the qualification process for the next World Cup.

ROUTE 66

The Republic of Ireland was drawn alongside Spain, Denmark, Northern Ireland, Lithuania, Latvia and Albania in World Cup 1994 Qualifying Group 3. Spain began as clear favourites to top the group with Ireland, Denmark and possibly Northern Ireland expected to battle it out for the second qualification spot.

The remaining countries Lithuania, Latvia and Albania were not expected to qualify but each had the potential to cause an upset result.

Back to back home victories over Albania (2-0 – Aldridge and McGrath) and Latvia (4-0 – Aldridge hat-trick and Sheedy) were followed by impressive 0-0 draws away to Denmark and Spain. By the end of 1992 Ireland were looking good for qualification.

A terrific first half performance which yielded three goals without reply was enough for a 3-0 victory over Northern Ireland in March 1993 thanks to Andy Townsend, Niall Quinn and Steve Staunton efforts. Charlton’s unbeaten run continued with a deserved 1-1 draw at home to Denmark (Quinn) followed by away wins over Albania (2-1) and Latvia (4-0). A productive period concluded with home and away victories over Lithuania setting up two crucial final group games to confirm a berth at World Cup 1994.

WINDSOR SILENCED

Ireland entertained Spain at Lansdowne Road in October 1993 in a crucial Group 3 World Cup qualifying showdown. Spain took an early lead through a tenth minute Caminero strike and when Salinas doubled his side’s advantage three minutes later Ireland were in serious trouble.

Salinas grabbed his brace just before the half hour as boos rained down on Jack Charlton from the packed Lansdowne terraces. An improved second half showing which culminated in a late John Sheridan goal proved scant consolation. Results elsewhere meant Ireland needed something from a daunting away trip to Northern Ireland in their final group game to be sure of qualification.

The Irish press and media were united in their scathing criticism of Charlton’s tactics following the 3-1 Spanish defeat. A host of injuries aside, the Irish team looked disjointed and unsure of themselves for the first time in four years.

The scenario was simple for the Republic heading into their final match knowing qualification for USA \’94 would be secured with an away victory at Windsor Park. Billy Bingham’s final match in charge of the North following his illustrious managerial tenure only helped to further raise the stakes of an already potentially combustible fixture.

The atmosphere was poisonous in Windsor Park on November 17th 1993 with Northern Ireland playing for national pride but even more importantly the opportunity to deny Jack Charlton’s side a place in the World Cup.

Windy conditions made for a dreadful game until Northern Ireland took a shock lead in the 73rd minute through a cracking Jimmy Quinn volley. The Republic was in real danger of failing to qualify as news of Denmark holding Spain 0-0 in Seville came through. Northern Ireland showed little sign they were likely to relinquish their lead and were roared on by a vociferous home support.

Alan McLaughlin had other ideas.

Barely five minutes after falling behind to Quinn’s stunning volley the Republic of Ireland forced the hosts into a hasty clearance inside their own penalty area. McLaughlin (who had never previously scored for the Republic) gathered the loose clearance and volleyed the ball into the net through a crowded penalty area for a priceless equaliser.

There was a frenzied finish to the game with Northern Ireland desperate for a winner but when the full time whistle blew news of a late Spain goal at home to Denmark confirmed the Republic of Ireland’s qualification for World Cup 1994.

Next Week: R.O.C.K in the USA – Part 2: Republic of Ireland at World Cup 1994

Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled \’Off Centre Circle’, published by the Evening Echo, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork amateur soccer player.

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