05.06.2002 at 12:30 Kashima Stadium,Ibraki
1 - 1
Republic of Ireland
Referee: Kim Nielsen (Denmark)
World Cup Finals-match
Republic of Ireland 1 Germany 1 Match 377: Statto Staunton's 100th Internatiuonal cap Ireland's capacity to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and rise triumphantly to clamorous acclaim was never more effectively illustrated than in a World Cup stadium of seething emotion in IbarakThe goal that Robbie Keane smashed past an inspired Oliver Kahn after 92 minutes of relentless Irish endeavour was a testament to the formidable depth of residual courage within this remarkable squad. The equality they achieved was theirs by right, the manner of its accomplishment memorable. It was made special by the quality of their football, the flexibility of their tactical approach, the unbounded degree of self-belief within those heaving chests. Ireland, simply, were magnificent, unlucky not to win. The goal was scored when all seemed lost, when it seemed they were condemned to lose, to have their courage, their resilience, their sheer bravado denied, indeed mocked, by cruel ill-luck. To their undying credit they refused to accept what seemed inevitable. And their glorious fighting spirit was rewarded handsomely with a move of rare quality and a goal of pure gold. What joy was released by Robbie Keane’s delightful goal; what waves of emotion swept across this marvellous stadium; with what sense of justice was this priceless goal greeted and acclaimed. For this was an achievement to savour, an accomplishment to be enjoyed, a feat to be feted. This was history in the making. Even if Germany did not cut a figure sufficiently stylish, sufficiently substantial, sufficiently impressive to suggest they have the capability once again to reign as world champions, they are a powerful force. Ireland did better than match them. Once again - as in the game against Cameroon - Ireland were timid and conservative in their first-half performance. Germany assumed the initiative, confused Ireland with a clever and unpredictable formation and conjured up a cracking goal to establish a position of authority. So the plot was devised early for Germany’s goal came after 19 minutes. Ballack accepted Ziege’s pass in midfield and with time and space to set his sights, he delivered the perfect ball for Klose to head past Given from 15 yards. The goal, in concept and in execution, was intimidating. The ease with which Ballack found space and time on the left of midfield pointed to a lack of organisation in the Irish side, the effectiveness of Klose’s run from goal-side of Harte and his trouble-free jump identified shortcomings in a defensive set-up that suggested confusion. Germany’s tactical alignment unhinged Ireland. The giant Jancker was a lone spearhead. His partner Klose operated in the channel between Harte and Staunton, much farther removed from his striking partner than is usual but jumping on spring heels to win a lot of possession. His positional play left Harte in two minds and pulled the full-back infield to open a big space on the flank, well exploited by Frings and Schneider. So Ireland were vulnerable on the left wing. Neither Harte nor Kilbane can have enjoyed the first 45 minutes. Elsewhere exciting things were happening for Ireland. What bliss to be able to point to an attacking force in Irish shirts that was sophisticated, inventive and highly skilled. Damien Duff and Robbie Keane were all of these things and more besides. Their impact on the game was beyond measurement. From the third minute when Duff robbed Hamann, dummied past a couple of tackles before having the ball knocked away from him to Kilbane whose excellent cross was deflected belatedly out of Holland’s path by Ramelow, Ireland looked menacing in attack. It was, to put it in pure and simple terms, exhilarating. The movement, the ball-playing skills, the sheer competitiveness of the Irish strike force lifted this performance to an exceptional level. And within minutes of Germany’s mind-numbing goal, the Irish applied themselves diligently to make their quality tell. The fact that they had to wait until the 92nd minute of the match for their reward was as much an injustice as it was a tribute to Germany’s disciplined defence and the genius of Oliver Kahn. The 32-year-old goalkeeper, playing in his 44th international, looked unbeatable, putting up a wall of defence that was well-nigh impregnable. Successive waves of Irish attacks broke with explosive force on the bulwark of Germany’s defence that was Kahn without making an impact. He defied all of Ireland’s strikers with such consistency that Robbie Keane especially, must have despaired of ever scoring. The pinhead sharpness of Keane’s work in the box was breathtaking but Kahn was forever in his face; smothering, deflecting, frustrating. Ireland grew increasingly more dominant, even if Jancker might have closed them out with a lob past Given after 68 minutes that bounced narrowly wide and Bierhoff might have profited from a mis-kick by the Irish goalkeeper in the 87th minute but for Breen’s alertness. What was entirely uplifting, however, was the clever tactical re-arrangement of the Irish force at half-time and the further adjustments and substitutions throughout the second half that ensured Ireland remained the dominant force. They were forever positive in attitude and application. Harte was tucked in tighter to the centre-backs, even though Klose switched wings, to choke Germany’s attack to within an inch of expiration. Breen was masterful in his dominance of Jancker and with Kinsella and Holland again ferociously competitive, Ireland tightened their grip on the game with fanatical zeal. Up front, however, is where this absorbing contest was enjoined most exhilaratingly. Duff, in the second half, drifted wide towards his natural habitat on the left wing, the better to allow Kilbane drop deeper to fill the gap left by Harte’s employment as a support of the centre-backs. How the diminutive winger loved it and his second-half performance will in time be regarded as one of the highlights of this eventful World Cup. Duff is a rare jewel, a player of immense skill, of captivating grace and exciting potential. How fortunate we are that he wears a green shirt when he is possessed of the genius to comfortably don the yellow of Brazil or the royal blue of the reigning champions. Duff was ‘Man of the Match’ and with Robbie Keane in such ebullient form, Kahn so formidable, Breen so outstanding in what was undoubtedly his best international performance, and Finnan so effective, that was a rating to be proud of. Can Irish supporters ever have enjoyed a day like this? So, finally, this special day, this precious occasion, wound down to its remarkable denouement. Steve Finnan, so honest and so committed, stroked a pass towards the head of the redoubtable Quinn. The downward header was angled perfectly and the precocious Keane loved it, upstaging Kahn with a strike that finally beat the great one, even if, remarkably, he still got a touch. It was a moment of sheer bliss. The manner of its arrival, its belatedness, had a liberating effect that was beyond description. The Irish celebrated exuberantly, still nursing the unconquerable hope, and justifiably so. Roll on Saudi Arabia .... Can the second round be so far behind ? Ireland Germany (3-5-2): Kahn; Linke, Ramelow, Metzelder; Frings, Schneider (Jeremies 90), Hamann, Ballack, Ziege; Klose (Bode 85), Jancker (Bierhoff 75). Referee: Mr K. M. Nielsen (Denmark). A Night of extravagant entertainment marked one of the most momentous achievements in Irish sports history: a 100th international cap for the remarkable Steve Staunton. The Irish skipper was presented with a gold watch by the youngest player in the World Cup squad, Steven Reid, to mark his record and then produced a typically courageous performance to lead by example as Ireland produced a performance fit to grace any stage. The individual stars of a memorable occasion were the relatively youthful Damien Duff and Robbie Keane but it was symptomatic of the unity within this squad that it was two of the oldest competitors, Staunton and Niall Quinn, who chased them hardest for top billing. Staunton was excellent throughout and Quinn made an impact commensurate with his considerable physique when introduced as substitute in the 73rd minute. His strength in the air unnerved the tall German defenders and complimented perfectly the predatory skills of the marvellous Robbie Keane. “Quinn coming on made a difference. He won three or four headers where Ireland had not troubled us until then,” said German manager Rudi Voeller. Ireland manager Mick McCarthy echoed the sentiments of Voeller: “Quinn made a big difference. He has great height and presence. “For the goal he got a flick on and Keane was on his shoulder. Robbie had two other chances, were it not for Kahn I thought we would have won the game. Robbie had gone so close on two or three occasions.” McCarthy remained calm and composed after the final whistle but he must have been exultant inside. For his tactical changes at the start of the second half effectively undermined the security that Germany showed in the first half. He revealed at first he thought Keane had failed to score to compound the frustration of several missed chances early and said: “At first I thought he had hit the post again and I held my head in frustration. Then I saw the net shaking. It was a great feeling, a memorable moment.” It was fitting the buzz-saw busy Keane should have claimed the goal for he was brilliant. “Centre-forwards are judged on the goals they get, that is their business and tonight Keane delivered,” said McCarthy. He added: “At half-time I told my players to go out and dominate the game but don’t be the better side and come off disappointed. Be the better side and get the result you want. “The German defence played very well and I was particularly impressed with Linke. The Germans have won three World Cups, they have always had good teams, they have good players, were well-organised, but we really got stuck in.” Still the magnificent Oliver Kahn threatened for a long time to upset Ireland’s night and bomb them out of the World Cup. He made a string of top-class saves, most often from Keane. Cameroon play Saudi Arabia today and it will be of particular interest to Ireland to see whether Cameroon can hit them for eight as Germany did. Bliss for Ireland would be a drawn game or, unlikely as it seems, a win for Saudi Arabia. For now it is enough to celebrate a superb performance. “I thought we controlled the second half. The desire, the passion and the commitment are always there but remember we have some good players as well to go with them,” said McCarthy. “We were the better team, particularly in the second half and we got the result we deserved.” Asked how he thought the 7,000 Irish supporters had contributed to the result he said: “I think you need to do your mathematics. There were more than 7,000 there. They were brilliant as ever, great people we have as supporters.” He reviewed Ireland’s performance by paying tribute to the centurion Steve Staunton and his partner Gary Breen by saying: “They were a bit shaky in the first half against Cameroon, but they nailed it down in the second half and tonight I thought they were brilliant.” Of the German goal-scorer Stephane Klose he said: “He got great spring for the goal, that is four goals in two games for him, you cannot argue with figures like that.” He returned to his central theme by saying: “I thought we were the better side. “I’ve talked up the Germans for the last five days, now that’s the end. “We have a great team spirit in the camp and that was illustrated at our pre-match meal when the youngest players, Steven Reid, presented the oldest player with a beautiful watch. “That said it all with the sense of camaraderie in the sense. “Remember: You never beat the Irish.” After a night like this who could argue with that ? DO you believe in magic? I never used to. But I started to believe in the 92nd minute in the Kashima Stadium in Ibaraki last night. Fortune, never mind football, doesn’t always favour the brave. Sport is littered with heroic failures and, for 91 minutes last night, this looked like ranking right up there with the toughest hard luck tales of them all. Ireland seemed to have given everything in a massive collective effort to get back on level terms with Germany. In the process, they had come to dominate the play, extract the best from Oliver Kahn and, as always when a side has to chase a game, ride their own luck on a couple of nerve-wracking occasions at the other end. But it wasn’t going to be enough, even with every green shirt pouring forward and the massed ranks of the green army trying to suck the ball into the net from behind the German goal. As the extra minutes ticked down, and Ireland launched another attack, those of us whose job it is to try to put these things into perspective, were physically still on the edge of our seats but mentally already concerned with chances missed, effort unrewarded and just how heartbreakingly cruel this wonderful old game can be. We knew it in our guts: Ireland might concede late goals, but they never score them. Only Manchester United do that. And then, in the 92nd minute, it happened. No hey presto, no abracadabra, but it was magic all right. Steve Finnan to Niall Quinn. The familiar, directed header. Robbie Keane, muscled out of the action for so much of the game, suddenly in space, taking the ball in his stride. He shoots. Kahn is in the way. Again. But this time, which is also the very last time, the shot defies him. A split second of disbelief. And then … Bedlam. I’ve seen a few strange things in a press box in my time but nothing to match this. People screaming, hugging, punching the air. One of our most seasoned campaigners in tears. And on the pitch and in the dugout and all around the Irish section, the same wild scenes of unbridled euphoria. Fans with typewriters? Give me a break. If you cared little for football and even less for the Irish version, you’d need a dark heart not to be inspired by this. The team that had huffed and puffed and never given up had finally made it up the hill. Moments after the final whistle, a Japanese journalist grabbed me by the hand and pounded his heart with his clenched fist in a gesture of international solidarity and sheer emotional relief. First Cameroon and now Germany; it’s official, Ireland are the biggest draw in Japan. This extraordinary result was richly deserved not just because of the effort the players put into the game but more so in light of all they have been through over the past couple of weeks. Just eight days ago, Niall Quinn was speaking with raw emotion in a media centre in Izumo that was a deathly silent as a morgue. And about as pleasant a place to be. For the players, dreams of sporting glory had been replaced by anxious, sleepless nights, and for everyone else, Ireland’s World Cup 2002 looked set to go down in history as nothing but a shambles. Last night, Niall Quinn shook off the German rearguard and with them, finally, the nightmare. He rose above it all and Robbie Keane was there to finish the job. And when the final whistle had blown, and the entire squad had lined up shoulder to shoulder to salute the delirious fans, it was Quinn who was the last one to leave the pitch. When the magic happens, you want to savour it. Which is kind of how a lot of people feel about the little wizard, Damien Duff. At half-time, I fell in with an Argentinean journalist. He may not have thought he was watching a football classic and it wasn’t, but as human drama, it was unbeatable. Nevertheless, the man from the land of Maradona knew class when he saw it. “Your Damien Duff,” he said, eyes arched in admiration, “he plays a different game to everyone else.” And it’s true. In a side not exactly overflowing with guile and creativity, Duff is the one who weaves spells that owe more to the imagination of the schoolyard than to any coaching manual. Up against relentlessly physical German defending he was sensational at times, his constant movement off the ball almost as bewildering for the opposition as his inimitable twists and turns on it. For the younger players like Duff, last night was a something truly to be cherished. More than most, they deserved a rub of the World Cup magic. And now, whatever happens, nothing will be able to tarnish their memory of Ibaraki. For Steve Staunton too, it was a night to remember. A one goal defeat would have been a gloomy way to mark his century of caps for Ireland. Instead, he too can savour the afterglow of a memorable occasion, though it was his oft-criticised partner Gary Breen who was the minister of defence on the night. But now, just off a bus from Ibaraki, and writing in the dead of night here in Chiba, the required professional tone of sober reflection is, you’ll forgive me, a little hard to catch. Instead, the mind reels with the colour, drama and emotion of the evening: the pitch, luminous and immaculate, our press positions six stories high in the Kashami Stadium; the constant wave of noise from the Irish end. It has all gone towards ensuring a new addition to the pantheon of great European and World Cup days in Irish football: Stuttgart, Genoa, Giants Stadium and, now Ibaraki.