By Jay Mwamba
Ireland’s World Cup skipper, Steve Staunton, announced his international retirement after earning his 102nd cap in the Republic’s penalty loss to Spain in Suwon last Sunday.
“I’m going to hang up my boots on this scene. There’s enough here for Mick [McCarthy] to work with and I don’t think my knee could handle a few more years of this, to be honest,” the 33-year-old defender told RTE.
Staunton, who plays his club football with Aston Villa in the English Premiership, is the only man to have featured in all three World Cup finals that Ireland has qualified for.
First capped by Jack Charlton against Tunisia in 1988, the former Dundalk and Liverpool hero was a squad member at Italia ’90 and USA ’94, before captaining the team in Japan/Korea ’02 after the expulsion of Roy Keane.
He scored eight goals for Ireland.
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Staunton follows big Niall Quinn out of the Irish door.
Said Quinn, whom McCarthy had earlier talked out of quitting so that he could help in the Republic’s World Cup campaign: “I’m going out on just the right note. You might think this is a low note to go out on, but I’ve seen what this team is capable of and I think there are really exciting times ahead.
“The days of Ireland just qualifying for competitions are over. What has happened here will be invaluable. It will give them experience. It is going to be a wonderful team and they have some great players.”
Quinn, who’s 35, departs as Ireland’s all-time leading scorer with 21 goals.
Midfielder Jason McAteer also hinted in an interview before the Spain match that he would retire after the finals. The 30-year-old, whose goal in the 1-0 victory over Holland in Dublin last September cleared the path for Ireland’s qualification, was hoping to win his 50th cap against Spain but did not play.
A veteran of USA ’94, he made only one appearance in the Japan, in the first half against Cameroon before coming off. McAteer later confessed to having lied to McCarthy about his fitness after suffering a knee injury in a pre-tournament friendly.
While some of his veteran players call it a day, coach McCarthy has OKed a two-year contract extension that will keep him in charge until Euro ’04, whose qualifying campaign starts in the fall.
“We are delighted that Mick has agreed to stay in charge for another two years,” a Football Association of Ireland spokesman said, 24 hours after Ireland’s elimination from the World Cup.
While commiserating with his former squad on their penalty woes against the Spaniards, Jack Charlton called the Irish finishing during the shootout “dreadful.”
“The penalties were just dreadful. I don’t feel for the players who missed them at all,” he wrote in a column for the Daily Mirror in London. “They are professional players and that is their job.”
Charlton’s Ireland won a shootout against Romania in Italia ’90 to reach the quarterfinals and he differed with, McCarthy, his captain then, who said practicing penalties in training was garbage.
“Penalties are important,” he said. “Once you get into the knockout stages of any competition, some games are going to end up in a penalty shootout.”
Spain played the extra-time period in Suwon with only 10 men after substitute David Albelda was carried off injured, but none of the Irish players realized this until the game was over.
“We did not realize they only had 10 men,” goalie Shay Given said. “But I doubt it would have made much of a difference.”
McCarthy was equally bemused when asked if he was aware of Ireland’s numerical advantage at the time.
Japan’s coach Philippe Troussier urged his players ahead of yesterday’s second-round match with Turkey to show some Irish spirit.
The Frenchman, whose successes in Africa earned him the nickname the “White Witchdoctor,” said the mental strength and never-say-die attitude Ireland displayed against Spain were lessons for the co-hosts.