Republic of Ireland grabbed plenty of headlines during their last appearance at the FIFA World Cup™ in 2002, though unfortunately many of them were for the wrong reason: an infamous bust-up between star player Roy Keane and coach Mick McCarthy.
When Keane was sent home, the Irish were able to grab some favourable headlines too, like holding the mighty Germany to a 1-1 draw and, thereby, advancing into the next round. In the last 16, the team put up an excellent fight against Spain, but ultimately lost out after a tightly-contested penalty shootout. They did, however, maintain their impressive record of always advancing past the first round at the finals, having managed to do so in their two previous appearances at Italy 1990 and USA 1994.
But the years since 2002 have not been kind. A poor start to
UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying cost McCarthy his job, and his successor,
Brian Kerr, met the same fate two years later after failing to lead
the side to Germany 2006.
In an attempt to stop the rot, the FAI recruited the country's most-capped footballer, Steve Staunton, who nevertheless went into the top job without any management experience whatsoever. The critics predicted disaster and when the Republic failed to qualify for their third successive major tournament, taking one point from a possible six in a forgettable EURO 2008 qualifying campaign, Staunton became the country's third managerial casualty in the space of four years.
His replacement will be Giovanni Trapattoni, the highly experienced Italian who will vacate the Red Bull Salzburg hot-seat in May to assume the Republic of Ireland reins. With the likes of English Premier League stars Shay Given, John O'Shea, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane, along with Celtic ace Aiden McGeady, at his disposal, the Republic's loyal army of fans might yet be called upon to make the long march to South Africa.