FAI History Chapter 39 - World Cup 2002 preparations

FAI History Chapter 39 - World Cup 2002 preparations

FAI History Chapter 39 - World Cup 2002 preparations  ...
25th Aug 2011


FAI History Chapter 39 - World Cup 2002 preparations 

There was no scale comprehensive enough to measure the depth of Ireland's disappointment after their frustrating loss to Turkey in the UEFA Championship of 2000.

Ireland performed superbly throughout a qualifying tournament that placed extraordinary demands upon them. Their performances, especially in inhospitable venues away from home, were outstanding. Their achievement in taking second place in their group while eliminating Croatia spoke volumes for the spirit and talent within Mick McCarthy's squad.

The players were not allowed much time to dwell upon what might have been, however, for they were quickly in action after the turn of the year. The focus now was upon the World Cup qualifying tournament for the 2002 finals and a busy programme lay ahead.

The draw placed Ireland in Group Two, facing a difficult task in seeking one of the top two positions in competition with Portugal, Netherlands, Estonia, Cyprus and Andorra.

First McCarthy took the opportunity to continue his team-building when the skilful Czech Republic visited Lansdowne Road on February 23, 2000. They included in their squad such sublime footballers as Pavel Nedved, Patrik Berger, Vladimir Smicer and the giant Jan Koller.

Koller, standing four inches above six feet, proved particularly difficult to control and he scored twice, the first within four minutes of the start. The teams were level two goals each at half-time before 30,543 spectators. Rada conceded an ‘own goal', Ian Harte had Ireland's second equaliser and Robbie Keane cheered the fans with a winner after 87 minutes.

The manager was offering game time to the younger set at this point and he had Richard Dunne, Barry Quinn and David Connolly in the team when Greece travelled to Dublin on April 26.

The attendance was down at 23,157 and they left disappointed after Ireland failed to find an effective rhythm against tenacious rivals. Greece edged a win with the only goal of the match from Vassilis Lakis after 15 minutes.

Scotland rolled into Dublin for a friendly on May 30 as Ireland prepared to travel to the USA for three games in the US Nike Cup competition. And Scotland delivered a sharp lesson with goals from Craig Burley and Barry Ferguson wiping out Mark Kennedy's strike which came as early as the second minute.

The youthful Stephen McPhail was attracting lots of attention in England with Leeds United and he was in midfield against Scotland alongside Jason McAteer. They were in the squad that travelled to America to face Mexico in the opening game of the Nike Cup in the famous Soldier Field, Chicago, on June 4, 2000.

The match drew 36,469 fans to the stadium and they thrilled to an exciting contest that was played in heavy rain. Memories of Ireland's loss to Mexico in the World Cup finals of 1994 returned as Mexico raced into a 2-0 lead, but Ireland struck back through youngsters Richard Dunne - his first goal in his third match - and Dominic Foley to tie the match.

Ireland travelled to Boston to play USA two days later in Foxboro Stadium but the match was ruined by a thunder and lightning storm. Twice the match was interrupted as the lighting in the stadium failed and the attendance was kept down to 16,319 by the torrential rain and 35 mph winds.

Ireland would have deserved to have won a match that was drawn 1-1. They led as the promising Dominic Foley again scored after 30 minutes and there was little doubt but that the equaliser from Ante Razov after 68 minutes came from an offside position.

Gary Doherty, then with 'Spurs, was among the young players in action alongside Stephen McPhail, Matt Holland, Gareth Farrelly and Foley. Doherty came in as sub in the course of the last game of the American trip when Ireland played South Africa at the Giants Stradium, New Jersey, on June 11 before 45,000 fans.

Ireland came from behind to win 2-1 and the game was a landmark for Niall Quinn. Shaun Bartlett put South Africa in front after 14 minutes, Stephen McPhail equalised after 43. Quinn scored the winner in the 68th minute, his 20th goal, bringing him level with record-holder Frank Stapleton as Ireland's top scorer.

The continuing flow of young players into the senior squad offered encouragement and confirmed the growing strength of McCarthy's group. The near miss in the qualifying tournament for the UEFA finals of 2000 helped strengthen resolve and the knowledge that Ireland had a settled and well-balanced team with strong back-up players available meant the qualifying tournament for the 2002 World Cup was awaited with impatience.