‘Golden era’: remembering Ireland’s most recent play-off wins for major international tournaments

The 20th Century represented a century of hurt for us Republic of Ireland fans in play-offs for major tournaments, with four defeats from four matches.

While the turn of the millennium hasn’t always been a source of unbridled joy – just ask Thierry Henry – it has seen the Boys in Green reach three major tournaments via the play-offs, the most successful in our history.

2002 World Cup – Ireland 2-1 Iran (Aggregate)

Having finished second behind Portugal in Group 2, a rare inter-confederation play-off saw our Boys in Green face Iran in November 2001. A 2-0 advantage from the first leg in Dublin thanks to goals from Ian Harte and Robbie Keane was enough to survive a 1-0 loss and a nervy finish in Tehran five days later. A 2-1 aggregate score secured passage to our first World Cup in eight years.

Even in this short space of time, the development of the game had been ten-fold. Now, the World Cup is arguably the most prestigious international sporting event in the world, meaning it features on a plethora of platforms, including video games, online slots, and more. Online casinos in particular require site compilers such as BonusFinder, a company that conducts high-quality research to find the best options for consumers. Back in 2002, Mick McCarthy’s men progressed as far as the last-16, before losing on penalties to Euro 2008 and 2012 winners, Spain.

Euro 2012 – Ireland 5-1 Estonia (Aggregate)

After heartbreak for South Africa 2010 courtesy of Henry, two years later there would be redemption for Ireland. Having finished just two points behind Russia in Group B, we were kindly drawn against European minnows Estonia. Incredibly, the play-off was all but secured in the first leg away in Tallinn, with goals from Keith Andrews, Jonathan Walters, and a brace from the inevitable Keane sealing a 4-0 rout.

Estonia came to Dublin needing to fight and did exactly that, but an early Stephen Ward strike put paid to their efforts, even despite a 57th-minute equaliser. 1-1 on the night, 5-1 on aggregate, and the Irish were going to Poland and Ukraine! Unlike the World Cup ten years earlier, though, Giovanni Trapattoni’s men crashed out at the group stage. Ireland finished bottom of Group C behind Croatia, Italy, and eventual winners Spain, exiting on zero points and having scored just one goal.


Euro 2016 – Ireland 3-1 Bosnia (Aggregate)

The Boys in Green only had to wait two more years for another set of play-offs. Qualification for Euro 2016 saw Ireland finish third in Group D behind European giants Germany and Poland, meaning Martin O’Neil’s men would play Bosnia in the play-offs. In the first leg in Zenica, a late Edin Dzeko strike cancelled out Robbie Brady’s effort, leaving it all to play for in Dublin three days later.

Much to the delight of the Dublin faithful, Jonathan Walters struck twice on either side of halftime to secure a 2-0 win and a 3-1 aggregate victory overall. Fast forward half-a-year and the Boys in Green were in France and qualifying for the knockouts after a third-place finish in Group E behind Italy and Belgium. However, a valiant performance wasn’t enough to down eventual finalists France in the last-16, as the Boys fell to a 2-1 loss to our new-found rivals.

After an apparent ‘Golden Era’ of success in play-off matches, Ireland then slipped to consecutive defeats in 2018, a 5-1 aggregate thumping by Denmark, and in 2020, a heart-breaking loss on penalties to Slovakia.

Now with Euro 2024 on the horizon, Stephen Kenny’s men come up against France and Greece in their first two European qualifiers. Here’s hoping that a return to this golden era is on the cards.

Written by YBIG 12

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