By Joe Behan
With 20 minutes to go Ireland, 1-nil down, make Spain’s Raul look like a rookie once again with their offside trap. Ian Harte sends in a free, not good enough. But Ireland is not panicking. Shay Given comes up big against Raul. It’s a save. Damien Duff is still running around, if he gets hold of the ball, he is dangerous. Harte intercepts a pass and Ireland go at Spain again in search of the equalizer. Replay shows Raul’s chance with Harte trying to do an overhead kick in his own 6-yard box. Harte is the weakest link in the Irish side, surely Mick McCarthy will replace him before it’s too late.
Fifteen minutes left and Spain are holding the ball as they protect the lead. Ireland are sitting in, it’s proving the right team tactic even though they desperately need possession of the ball. Gary Breen lashes Raul out of it. Harte has a free a good bit out. Robbie Keane gets on it but just can’t redirect the flight on target. Duff slinks past three Spanish players and hits a shot just wide. Raul exits the game. Niall Quinn knocks a ball down, but there’s no Irish support. Harte is putting some serious and not so good hang time on his crosses. It’s the last play for Ian in the World Cup as David Connolly enters the game.
There are 10 minutes left and it’s now or never for Ireland. Can the Irish do it again, can they make yet another fantastic comeback like they did against Cameroon and Germany? The Spanish keeper smothers Keane’s lob. There is long service to Quinn and it’s getting there.
The Irish are mixing it up, they are good on the ground and causing havoc in the air with the Mighty One. Keane is flying; he sends in a cross. Quinn causes concern. Steve Finnan sends in a free, Quinn wins a penalty and it’s Keane on the spot. He scores in the 90th minute.
Sensational! The fighting Irish do it again. Fans are crying, they cannot take this, it’s too much drama. Ireland finish like the team who can go on and beat Spain in overtime.
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The rest is history as Ireland dominated Spain for 30 minutes. The Irish fans never gave up supporting their boyz in green. The Irish were close, very close. Not only did Ireland make another world-class comeback, they had proved to be just as good a team to watch than any other team in the tournament. McCarthy was finally on the brink of matching his glorious days as Captain Fantastic with Jackie’s army.
The Spanish were in trouble during OT and they knew it. “Low lie the Fields of Athenry,” echoed around Suwon. No doubt about it, both teams were tired, Spain attacked, but this overtime was all about Ireland.
Duff and Keane were absolutely brilliant, but the Irish just couldn’t put the ball away. However, it was a great performance by the men in green and it was great to see them actually keeping the ball on the ground. Extra time was over, remaining at 1-all, and the dreaded PK shoot out it was to be.
Players hugged like family after the final whistle. The Irish staff linked shoulder to shoulder as the kicks were about to unfold. For Ireland it would be Robbie Keane, Matt Holland, David Connolly, Kevin Kilbane and Steve Finnan. Kilbane, of course, is a surprise. Nonetheless, the drama of scoring from 12 yards was also too much for the Spanish, who were completely missing the goal, never mind Given saving. And so it finished, Ireland were beaten 3-2 on penalties in the last 16 of the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan.
There was to be no David O’Leary ending to PKs. McCarthy was to fall short of Charlton’s quarterfinal success but the Irish had grown on the international scene as far as the beautiful game was concerned.
Sayonara, Roy Keane
For the Irish fans it can be said that there was just a penalty kick in it. The Irish played some “great” stuff, were fun to watch, had a fantastic team spirit, and a never-say-die attitude that was a highlight of World Cup group play and the final 16. Irish fans will search for a better result while they second-guess McCarthy’s changes.
The “what ifs” and “we should haves” will be examined by many an Irish supporter. The big question as usual is, were the Irish just happy to be there? It didn’t look that way in extra time against Spain or indeed throughout their performances? There is concern that we had to come from a goal down in three games? Do the Irish only play like this when they have to? If a team can dominate as much as they did in all their games, then fans, players and managers can expect more.
The Irish will relish with thoughts of the future. The Irish national team has added a fine football game to an already hard working ethic. No doubt Ireland is on the right road to improving. And they will do it without Roy Keane. They already have. Perhaps they could have done with the standard of a Keano on the field. We can safely say that no player is bigger than the team, but the Irish will wonder what if the Corkman had of been there. Nevertheless, he was sent home and that is
Keane did say he will not play for Ireland as long as McCarthy is there, and that will probably be the case, Mr. Keane. This is a problem. Keane is thinking and pronouncing that he will not play for his country. It’s not the kind of thing a professional should make. If this is the kind of football the Irish play without Keane, the Irish will go to tournaments, supporters will keep on singing, and they will get results. McCarthy has announced he will stay on for Euro 2004.
For Roy Keane, it’s what Conor Cruise O’Brien wrote in 1959: “Irishness is not primarily a question of birth or blood or language; it is the condition of being involved in the Irish situation, and usually of being