By Jay Mwamba
The Football Association of Ireland has decided to offer Mick McCarthy a four-year contract extension has national coach until the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.
This decision could also effectively end the international career of former skipper Roy Keane, whom McCarthy has banished from the squad until he apologizes for his outburst in Saipan three weeks ago.
“We would be mad to lose Mick as manager. I would love to see him stay on to the next World Cup Finals and I know that is what everyone at the FAI wants,” FAI president Milo Corcoran said last week.
McCarthy was given a two-year extension, reportedly worth over $500,000 a year, after qualifying the Republic for Japan/Korea ’02.
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Jason McAteer confessed in a column for an Irish media outlet last week that he had lied to McCarthy about his fitness before the Ireland’s World Cup opener against Cameroon on June 1.
The Sunderland midfielder suffered a badly bruised knee in a training match against a Japanese club a week before the Cameroon match and when asked about his fitness by McCarthy, said that he was able to play.
He started against the Lions but went off at halftime for Steve Finnan with Ireland trailing 1-0. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. McAteer missed the Republic’s next game, against Germany, which also finished in a 1-1 tie.
Harte to Harte
Defender Ian Harte says Ireland has proved that it can play without the disgraced Roy Keane.
“As a team we have completely disproved those who claimed we would not be able to cope without Roy Keane,” Harte said on the eve of the Saudi Arabia game.
“We have shown we are not a team that relies on one player, and quite apart from the spirit within the squad and everyone willing to play for each other, we have also played some really nice football,” the 24-year-old Leeds United added.
Ironically, Harte has come under heavy criticism for his performances in Japan. He was blamed for Germany’s goal in the 1-1 tie last week after failing to close down Miroslav Klose, and almost cost Ireland dearly against Cameroon when he lost the ball to Geremi, who missed a good opportunity to put the African champions 2-0 up.
Quinn’s swan song
Niall Quinn, Ireland’s all-time leading scorer, will end his Ireland career after the finals, 12 years after opening his international account with the equalizer in a 1-1 tie with Holland at Italia ’90.
“That was a magical moment knowing I had scored the goal which got us through to the second round on our first appearance in the finals,” he said before yesterday’s Group E decider with Saudi Arabia. “Then a draw was sufficient for us to get through, but Tuesday is different as only a win will do, but it is much more in our hands.”
McCarthy tipped his hat to the towering forward, whom he talked out of retiring so that he could appear in the finals.
“He’s my version of the Old Guard, the sort of reliable veteran you can count on to get you out of a hole,” McCarthy said.
In an uncanny replay of the Roy Keane affair, Slovenia’s most famous player, Zlatko Zahovic, was kicked off the former Yugoslav republic’s team last Thursday after a fight with coach Srecko Katenec.
Zahovic, a goal-scoring midfielder renowned for his fiery temper, was upset over being substituted by Katenec during Slovenia’s 3-1 defeat to Spain in their Group B opening match on June 2.
Katenec first threatened to quit after the row but was dissuaded by the Slovenian FA’s president, Rudy Zavru. Zahovic later apologized to the young coach but was asked to leave camp by FA officials for making repeated public comments on the matter.
According to the FA’s website: “Zahovic continued with behavior which is harmful to the atmosphere of the team. The head coach has the full support of the [association’s] delegation, coaching staff and the players, and the decision has been made with an aim of putting all energy to the following World Cup matches.”
Slovenia lost their next game 1-0 to South Africa and have been eliminated.
Ireland’s never-say-die spirit has charmed many Japanese fans.
Robbie Keane’s last-gasp equalizer against Germany, in particular, has made an impact.
A growing number of Japanese have become admirers of the Irish, impressed with their hustle and determination on the field.
Last weekend, more than 3,500 locals turned up to watch the squad practice in the blazing sun, including adults wearing green soccer jerseys and children waving flags and chanting “I-ru-rando!”
“They have such heart,” said one fan, Mitsuo Suzuki. “I was really impressed with their game against Germany and I wanted to see them.”