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The Road to Asia

The Republic of Ireland's road to the 2002 World Cup finals in Korea and Japan began in February 2000 when Mick McCarthy and FAI officials met with the other sides in the group to arrange the fixture list.

Surprisingly, McCarthy opted to start the campaign with the two most difficult ties; away to Holland and Portugal. This was a bold gamble by McCarthy, especially as both sides had progressed to the semi-finals at the European Championships, and many within the media wondered whether the manager would quit if his decision backfired.

The preparations for the trip to Amsterdam to face Holland started badly as Phil Babb and Mark Kennedy were arrested for drunk and disorderly behavior in Dublin City a few days before the game. The pair were immediately dropped from the squad and, two months later, both were given the Probation Act.

However, rather than deflate the Irish squad, it brought out the best in the team as, for 70 minutes in the Amsterdam Arena, the Irish controlled the game and led 2-0 thanks to goals by Robbie Keane and Jason McAteer. Holland fought their way back into the match and may have won the game in the dying seconds, but at full time, it was one point won, rather than two points dropped.|Top|

In October, Mick McCarthy again assembled his troops for another away match, this time in Lisbon. It wasn't a classic performance by the Irish, and they were somewhat fortunate to draw 1-1. Sergio Conceicao put the Portuguese in front but a wonderful strike by Matt Holland gave Ireland a valuable point.

Four days later, Ireland played their first home game of the campaign, against Estonia at Lansdowne Road, and goals in either half from Mark Kinsella and Richard Dunne were enough for Ireland to pick up their first victory. McCarthy could justifiably claim that he had been right to play the two away matches first while the progress of Richard Dunne in central defence had alleviated the worry that Ireland lacked cover in that department.

After a winter break, Ireland embarked on a Mediterranean tour as they faced Cyprus and Andorra over a five-day period. The first match, in Cyprus, saw Ireland run out 4-0 winners with Roy Keane scoring twice and Ian Harte (a penalty) and Gary Kelly bagging one apiece. However, the performance left Mick McCarthy with many questions as Shay Given was called upon on three occasions to bail out his defence.|Top|

From Cyprus, it was on to Barcelona to face Andorra. Ireland struggled to break the part-timers down for the first half hour before Ian Harte calmed Irish nerves with a penalty. Matt Holland and Kevin Kilbane also got on the scoresheet in the second half to put some gloss on the result.

The return match against Andorra was scheduled for April and McCarthy decided to leave out players carrying yellow cards with the forthcoming Portugal match in mind. It was easily Ireland's worst performance of the campaign with Lima giving Andorra a shock lead, before Mark Kinsella, Kevin Kilbane and Gary Breen saved Ireland's blushes.

With four games remaining, Ireland held their destiny in their own hands and the next match was against Portugal at Lansdowne Road. In an erratic performance, Roy Keane produced one of his best ever games in an Ireland shirt as Ireland drew 1-1. Keane put Ireland ahead when he latched onto a long throw into the penalty area, but World Footballer of the Year, Luis Figo, saved a point for Portugal with a header with 12 minutes remaining.|Top|

Roy Keane missed the trip to Estonia five days later, but his replacement, Matt Holland was one of Ireland's scorers in a 2-0 victory. Richard Dunne had opened the scoring.

That result meant that Ireland's fate rested on September's tie with Holland at Lansdowne Road. A win or draw would guarantee Ireland at least a play-off spot, while defeat would end any hopes of travelling to Japan and South Korea. After a shaky start, Holland had clicked into gear, and with stars such as Patrick Kluivert, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Marc Overmars and Jaap Stam in their side, many were speculating whether McCarthy would quit if Ireland lost.

The match itself was a classic with goalmouth incidents aplenty. Holland had a number of chances in the first half as they threatened to overrun Ireland and, when Gary Kelly was sent off for a second bookable offence early in the second half, the signs look ominous. With a draw being a satisfactory result for the Irish, the team dropped deeper and deeper, and on a number of occasions, Kluivert and van Nistelrooy almost put the Dutch in front. It looked like one goal would be enough, and fortunately it fell to Ireland.|Top|

The Dutch only half cleared a corner and Ireland worked the ball to Steve Finnan. The young full back surged towards the box but then turned back to deliver a cross into the danger area. The Dutch defence were distracted by Damien Duff's attempt to win the ball, but it drifted over the striker to Jason McAteer who made no mistake as he steered the ball past Edwin van der Saar. Ireland hung on for a memorable victory to guarantee a play-off spot for the World Cup.

Despite being unbeaten throughout the qualifying campaign, Ireland were still unlikely to claim the automatic qualification spot ahead of Portugal. On the final matchday of the qualifying campaign, Ireland easily beat Cyprus 4-0. Ian Harte put Ireland in front early in the first half before Niall Quinn scored his record breaking 21st goal of his international career to secure the points. In the second half, David Connolly and Roy Keane put a sheen on the victory though Portugal's victory over Estonia on the same night meant that Ireland were forced into a play-off with Iran.

The first leg was at Lansdowne Road and Ireland won 2-0 thanks to an Ian Harte penalty and Robbie Keane's first international goal in over a year. Shay Given made a number of important stops from Ali Karimi and Karim Bagheri meaning that Ireland had the upperhand for the visit to Tehran.|Top|

The trip to Tehran was a step into the unknown for the Irish team. Over 80,000 fans packed into the National Stadium and it seemed all were confident that Iran could score the three goals they needed to qualify for the World Cup. Ireland's job was made more difficult by the absence of Roy Keane and Niall Quinn, though their replacements, Mark Kinsella and David Connolly, were hardly inexperienced internationals.

Iran put Ireland under immediate pressure, but a mixture of poor finishing and brilliant defending kept them out for 90 minutes with Ireland only losing their unbeaten qualifying record when Yahya Golmohammadi scored a late consolation goal for the Iranians.

However, it was too little too late as the Republic of Ireland qualified for their first World Cup finals in eight years.

Thanx to www.fai.ie

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Just thought I would remind u lad's how we got there... :tongue: :howler:

1,090 Posts
Thanks I had forgotten some of it. What can you say but that we rock the casbau (I just realized I don't know how to spell casba)
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