Ireland At The European Championships Pt.1

This week the entire nation will go football crazy as Ireland kick off their Euro 2016 against Sweden in Paris. This will be the Ireland’s third appearance in the European Championships and many are expecting a much better performance that the disastrous showing in 2012 by Giovanni Trapattoni’s charges in Poland. However, Ireland have found themselves in a tough group again with Italy & Belgium also to cintent with.  

Those old enough to remember will fondly recall the heroic exploits of Jack Charlton’s team in Euro ‘88 in Germany. This was Ireland’s first appearance in any major tournament and heralded the start of a golden era of Irish football under Charlton.

Over the next two parts, we will look back on Ireland’s previous two appearances in the European Championships.

Euro 1988 Germany

To qualify for their first major tournament, Ireland had to overcome an extremely tough group which included teams such as Bulgaria, Scotland and a Belgian side who had finished 4th at the 1986 World Cup.

After Ireland had completed their last fixture things were tight at the top and the boys in green were on top with eleven points – just one ahead of Bulgaria. So Ireland needed a favour from Scotland in Sofia against a much fancied Bulgarian side who hadn’t lost a home in qualifier for 5 years.

As the game drew to a close the game remained 0-0 and Bulgaria seemed destined to draw level on points and win the group by virtue of a superior goal difference. However with just three minutes left on the clock, Scotland’s Gary McKay popped up with a dramatic winner to send Ireland to Euro ‘88.

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At the tournament, Ireland were drawn into seemingly inescapable group which included eventual winners Holland, a very strong Soviet Union side and of course  the auld enemy – England. Ireland faced an acid test in their opening game in Stuttgart against a strong English side which included the likes of Glenn Hoddle, Gary Lineker & Bryan Robson.

The critics who had written off Ireland before a ball was even kicked in anger were silenced after just 6 minutes when Scottish-born, Ray Houghton headed the ball into the English net. While England ramped up the pressure threw everything they had, the Irish defence held firm and the game finished 1-0. Cue mass hysteria around the nation and one of the most iconic results in Irish footballing history.

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The next game was against tournament dark horses , the Soviet Union in Hanover. After a tight game in the initial stages, Liverpool star Ronnie Whelan put Ireland ahead in the 38th minute with a sublime left volley from the edge of the the 18-yard box. However despite being on the back foot for most of the game, the Soviets equalised with fifteen minutes left on the clock.

The final game was against a supremely talented Dutch side containing genuine world class superstars such as Marco Van Basten & Ruud Gullit. A single point would have sufficed put Ireland in a strong position to qualify for the semi finals. Ireland performed admirably especially in the first half with Paul McGrath’s header agonisingly hitting the post.

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Irish hearts were broken with just 8 minutes left on the clock however as an attempted volley by Ronald Koeman deflected it’s way to Wim Kieft who promptly headed home. The dream was over for Charlton’s boys. Despite the disappointment, it had been a hugely positive maiden international campaign for Ireland and it certainly paved the way for the memorable Irish performance at Italia ‘90.

It would be a whole 24 years until Ireland’s next European adventure, in part 2 we will  we will examine Ireland’s Euro 2012 campaign

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