As we wait to learn of the Republic of Ireland’s team fate tomorrow evening in Euro 2012 Qualifying Group B, with group winners and a spot in the play-offs both within reach, we get in the mood of famous Irish football nights, by taking a look back to a truly memorable and historic Ireland v Iran play-off back in 2001.
The winner of this two-leg play off would qualify for the 2002 World Cup Finals in Korea and Japan.
The Republic of Ireland finished runners-up in World Cup 2002 Qualifying Group 2. They collected 24 points from their 10 game campaign, trailing to Portugal on goal difference. Mick McCarthy’s team were unbeaten.
Ireland were drawn against Iran, who had beaten the United Arab Emirates in their Asian Zone play off, for a place in the following summer’s World Cup Finals.
Mick McCarthy’s men would meet Iran in Lansdowne Road on the 10th November 2001, with the return leg to take place in Tehran five days later.
Goals in each half from then Leeds United duo Ian Harte (penalty) and Robbie Keane secured a precious 2-0 home win, and an all important clean sheet.
Shay Given won the man of the match award for several superb point blank saves from Iran’s impressive playmaker Karimi.
Republic of Ireland team: Given, Finnan, Breen, Staunton (Cunningham 75), Harte, McAteer (G.Kelly 84), Roy Keane, Holland, Kilbane, Robbie Keane, N.Quinn
Iran team: Mirzapour, Mahdavikia, Golmohammadi, Peyravani, Rezaei, Kavianpour, Bagheri, Minavand, Karimi, Daei, Vahedinikbakht (Khaziravi 46)
For the 2nd Leg, the Republic of Ireland then entered the red hot cauldron of Iran’s Azadi stadium, in front of 120,000 passionate home supporters, knowing they were just 90 minutes away from qualifying for the World Cup Finals for only the third time in their history.
Shay Given was again a hero with a number of crucial saves.
Golmohommadi did provide a major scare when he finally found a way past Given and headed home for Iran in the second-minute of injury-time, but luckily for the Irish the goal came just too late to inspire the Iranians on to a successful comeback.
Instead, the referee blew his full-time whistle one minute later to break Iran hearts and send Ireland into euphoria. A narrow defeat was enough to see the Green Army ensure their place at next year’s World Cup Finals.
Iran: Mirzapour, Mahdavikia, Minavand, Peyrovani, Bagheri, Kavianpour, Karimi, Daei, Nikbakht Vahedi, Golmohammadi, Rezaei.
Republic of Ireland: Given, Finnan, Breen, Staunton, Harte, McAteer, Kinsella, Holland, Kilbane, Robbie Keane, Connolly.
Hundreds of fans waited through the night to greet Ireland’s World Cup heroes upon their arrival back to Dublin Airport.
“These fans are incredible,” said Shay Given after landing.
“After twice losing before in major play-offs we just had to get through this time and now we’re going to the World Cup. There’s no better feeling but we’ve worked hard for this and I think it is only what we and the fans have deserved. “
Manager McCarthy stated “It was great to get to the World Cup as a player for Ireland in 1990 but it feels even better as a manager.”
Let’s hope Given and the boys are in the mood for making more history come Tuesday evening. And if our good friends in Andorra fancied turning in the performance of their lives to beat Russia at the same time, I wouldn’t object.