Another tale of tough World Cup groups this time it’s off to America for Jack Charlton’s last big adventure with Ireland.
USA 1994- Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Norway
How did it go down?
After the phrase ‘Do I not like that’ entered English folklore the only Home Nation (sort of) heading to the 1994 World Cup were the Republic of Ireland. But just as in Italy 4 years earlier the draw in US didn’t favour the Irish. This time they drew joint favourites Italy, England’s conquerors Norway and a talented Mexico side.
Ireland would start against Italy- the team that had finally knocked them out of Italia ’90 featuring the world’s best player: Roberto Baggio. Ireland now had Roy Keane in midfield but this was largely an ageing side approaching the end. The one thing in Ireland’s favour was the venue- New York City. The local Irish-American community crammed into Giants Stadium for the opening game. Ray Houghton as so often in the past netted a fine volley early in the game. Despite relentless pressure the Irish held out and Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi was facing a crisis.
In the second game came another shock, Mexico dark horses to many couldn’t find a way through a stubborn Norwegian defence and conceded a late goal as Norway triumphed 1-0, suddenly both the group favourites faced must win second games.
Italy faced Norway with a critical Italian press on Sacchi’s back. And after 21 minutes of play things got far worse- goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca got himself sent off and in rearranging his side Sacchi took the astonishing decision to substitute Baggio. Truckloads of rotten tomatoes were being packed onto trucks for Rome Airport and teams premature return when Baggio’s namesake Dino struck a 69th minute goal and kept Italy alive with a 1-0 win.
Then Mexico faced Ireland, but this time the venue was not to Ireland’s liking: Orlando, Florida. The sweltering Floridian midday heat sapped the ageing Irish as Luis Garcia netted twice. Charlton lost his temper with the officials after trying to get bottles of water to his tiring players and despite a late John Aldridge goal Ireland fell to a 2-1 loss.
After 2 games it was all square everyone had played 2, won 1, lost 1 with only Mexico & Ireland’s superior goals scored separating the sides. Baggio was back against Mexico but misfiring and Italy went in at half time 0-0 and nervous. Ireland and Norway were nervous too back in New York and went in 0-0 at the break- as it stood Ireland and Mexico would still make it and Norway and Italy were on the brink.
Sacchi made his move and brought on striker Daniele Massaro for the second half and he repaid his manager almost immediately with a 48th minute goal. But Mexico fought back and Bernal Carlos restored parity. Now Italy were just in the last 16 as the third placed side and Norway needed a goal. Norway were a rigid but defensive team that relied on counter attacks and set plays, Ireland sat deep and retained the stalemate. As full-time approached Liam Brady gave some impartial commentary on the BBC “C’mon Packie Bonner!”, “The Norwegians don’t deserve to go through they’ve given the tournament nothing!” Brady got his wish and Ireland held out as did Mexico and the final table read 1. Mexico, 2. Ireland, 3. Italy, Eliminated Norway.
What Happened Next?
Ireland got the toughest second round draw: Holland. The Dutch had been fortunate to beat Ireland at Euro ’88 and the pair played out a 1-1 draw at Italia ’90. But this time the pace of Marc Overmars and skill of Denis Bergkamp proved too much and Holland ran out comfortable 2-0 winners.
Mexico also fell in the last 16 going out on penalties to Bulgaria after missing their first 3 spot kicks and even their migrane of a goalkeepeers kit couldn’t put off Stoichkov and co.
Italy again flirted with disaster in round 2 going behind to a first half Nigeria goal. But cometh the hour cometh the ponytail- Baggio struck an 88th minute equaliser as Italy scrapped through in extra time. Baggio then almost single handedly beat Spain and then Bulgaria to send Italy to the final. But Baggio was injured in the semi and only 50% for the final, a pity as Italy without their talsiman retreated into a defensive shell and Brazil couldn’t break them down. In the inevitable penaly shoot out it was Baggio who skyed the decisive kick and Brazil were Champions.
Charlton and Saachi would manage Ireland and Italy respectively for the Euro ’96 campaign, Ireland made it to a playoff against Holland and yet again the Dutch proved to be their nemesis and Irish failed to qualify for England’s party. Charlton retired shortly afterwards after a decade in charge setting a benchmark for all Ireland managers who’ve followed.
Sacchi’s Italy did qualify but went out in the group phase with Sacchi looking like a lost child on the Old Trafford touchline, 12 years on Italy exorcised the demon of Baggio’s missby winning the 2006 World Cup final on penalties.
Next time: Ibra makes his bow, Pochettino pays the penalty and Beckham gets his revenge- 2002 Japorea’s Group of death.