We face Slovakia away and if we can navigate that we will play Northern Ireland or Bosnia away. It’s never easy following the Boys in Green.
We may have had ample experience in these nail-biting fixtures over the years, however, luck hasn’t always necessarily been on our side. We take a look back at both the ecstasy and the agony of our play-off experiences.
World Cup 1966 vs Spain
Syria withdrew from the tournament, and as result Ireland and Spain had a play off in Paris. Jose Ufarte’s scored for a 1-0 win.
Euro 1996 – vs Holland
We limped into the play offs and faced a very strong Dutch team made up of the Ajax Champions League winning team of 94. It was a one leg play off hosted in Liverpoool. It was Jack Charlton’s last game and we lost 2-0 a young Patrick Kluivert with the two goals.
World Cup 1998 – vs Belgium
It was still early days for manager Mick McCarthy by the time his side took on Belgium for a place at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. In the first leg, we took the lead courtesy of a trademark Denis Irwin free-kick, although the defenders strike was soon cancelled out by Luc Nilis. It was one-way traffic throughout the remainder of the contest with the absence of Roy Keane hitting us hard.
At the Heysel Stadium, the small band of travelling fans were desperately hoping to see us bag an early away goal, however, that plan soon went out of the window when Luis Oliveira gave Belgium the lead after just 25 minutes. To our credit, we continued to scrap away and Ray Houghton’s 58th-minute strike had the away support dreaming of a summer excursion to France. However, those fantasies slowly began to dissipate just ten minutes later when Luc Nilis popped up once again to strike a decisive blow.
Euro 2000 – vs Turkey
We drew 1-1 at home against Turkey and drew 0-0 away and went out. The Turks scored a late penalty in Dublin which was the killer blow. The away leg was notable for no one been able to watch the game as it wasn’t shown on tv in Ireland.
There was a poisonous atmosphere around the game and at the final whistle it spilled over into some fisticuffs between players and officials. A bleak result.
World Cup 2002 – vs Iran
Despite accumulating an impressive total of 24 points during the group stage, we just fell short of automatic qualification once again and it would be third time lucky for Mick in the play offs for a place at the 2002 World Cup. Drawn against minnows Iran, there was a real sense of optimism around the country, and although we made life difficult for ourselves at times, we were able to take a 2-0 lead to Tehran.
Despite arriving with a seemingly comfortable advantage, we struggled to create chances in the second leg and there was a palpable sense of relief upon hearing the sound of the final whistle. Jangling nerves were becoming increasingly audible as the Yahya Golmohammadi netted in the 90th minute to help set up a grandstand finish in front of 100,000 supporters. Despite this short period of jeopardy, we’d done enough in the first leg, and a jubilant Mick McCarthy was able to begin preparations for a trip to Japan and Korea.
World Cup 2010 – vs France
Undeniably the most famous play-off fixture in our history, this controversial meeting with France is unlikely to ever be forgotten. Giovanni Trapattoni may not have been able to get his side playing an exciting brand of football, however he gave us a sense of belief and we quickly became extremely tough to beat under the Italian coach. We lost the first leg in Croke Park 1-0.
Over in Paris Robbie Keane’s strike had put us firmly in the driving seat before William Gallas’ controversial goal was allowed to stand by the Danish officials despite Thierry Henry blatantly handling the ball during the build-up. The referee may have been the only person in the stadium who failed to spot the Henry’s indiscretion, and with almost a decade to go until the arrival of VAR, there was very little chance of persuading Martin Hansson to change his mind.
Euro 2012 vs Estonia
Everone wanted Estonia before the play offs as they were seen as the weakest link and it proved thus. Ireland ran out 4-0 winners away in Tallinn, Robbie Keane scoring twice. We could only draw 1-1 at home but who cared as we partied hard having qualified for a tournament for the frst time in 10 years.
Euro 2016 – vs Bosnia and Herzegovina
Managed by Martin O’Neill and assisted by Roy Keane, we picked up some incredibly notable results in Group D with the 1-0 success against world champions Germany at the Aviva Stadium. Despite Shane Long’s heroics in Dublin, we sadly weren’t able to beat Poland and just fell short at the final hurdle once again.
Drawn against Bosnia and Herzegovina, our injury-hit squad battled admirably to secure an important 1-1 draw at the Bilino Polje Stadium. It was far more straightforward in the second leg as we coasted to a 2-0 victory back on home soil. Luck was on our side on this occasion as Jonathan Walters’ 24th-minute penalty looked dubious at best, and the striker added a second goal on 70 minutes to help seal our passage to Euro 2016.
2018 World Cup – vs Denmark
We have become familiar foes with Denmark over the last couple of years and we were handed yet another tough-looking draw against Age Hareide’s men in late 2017. We were priced up as outsiders by the bookmakers ahead of the first leg, yet a typically stoic performance saw us leave Copenhagen with a goalless draw. This time around, it feels as though we’ve been underestimated once again, and as of December 9th 2019, we’re priced at 23/10 by Betway to pick up an unlikely victory in Trnava. Ireland do tend to thrive when very little is expected of us and we generally prefer to play the role of underdog.
Unfortunately, the bookmakers had it spot-on ahead of the return leg with Spurs midfielder Christian Eriksen running the show in Dublin. He claimed a hat-trick as we were sadly given a footballing lesson by the rampant Danes. It was a hugely disappointing outcome and a result did nothing to ease the pressure on an increasingly under-fire Martin O’Neill, who was relieved of his duties twelve months later.
As play-off regulars, we undoubtedly know what to expect in March. It won’t be easy against Slovakia, although we’ve become pretty accustomed to these high-stakes fixtures over the last couple of decades. Our recent history in these all-or-nothing events may just give us an edge over our opponents as Mick McCarthy’s men hope to join Poland, Sweden and Spain in Group E at Euro 2020.