It took Republic of Ireland fully six decades to qualify for a FIFA World Cup™. Their breakthrough tournament was Italy 1990, when – under Jack Charlton’s inspirational management – they made it through a group including Spain, Northern Ireland and Hungary, beating La Roja en route. Four years later, Charlton’s side once again qualified alongside the Spanish, edging out then European champions Denmark, while in 2002 – with Mick McCarthy at the helm – they made it to Korea and Japan at the Netherlands’ expense. However, the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cup preliminary campaigns both ended in disappointment, and the Irish will be eager to avoid a third successive qualifying failure.
FIFA World Cup finals history
The mere mention of Italy 1990 still brings a smile to Irish faces, with memories vivid of the team’s fairy tale run to the quarter-finals, via draws against England, the Dutch and a heart-stopping penalty shootout win over Romania. The hosts ended Charlton’s side’s hopes on that occasion, but they were back in the latter stages four years later, having beaten the Italians 1-0 in a famous group opener at New York’s Giants Stadium. And the Republic maintained their 100 per cent record of qualifying from the group stage in 2002, Robbie Keane’s last-gasp equaliser against Germany providing a joyful prelude to the disappointment of defeat to Spain on penalties in the last 16.
The current crop
The Republic have progressed significantly under the tutelage of Giovanni Trapattoni, with the Italian’s trademark defensive framework providing a platform for noticeably improved results. Trapattoni also boasts plenty of attacking talent with the likes of Robbie Keane, Aiden McGeady and Kevin Doyle at his disposal, and having come so close to reaching South Africa 2010 in that infamous play-off against France, the Irish will be hopeful of earning a ticket to Brazil 2014.
The key players
No-one has made more appearances or kept more clean sheets for the Republic than Shay Given, and the long-serving No1 remains one of the best keepers in the business. Further forward, Keane – the team’s all-time record goalscorer – is finally under competition for his starting spot from the likes of Kevin Doyle and Shane Long, while Aiden McGeady’s skill and craft makes the Spartak Moscow winger well worth watching.
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA U-20 World Cup Malaysia 1997 (Third place), FIFA World Cup Italy 1990 (Quarter-finals)
Former stars: Liam Brady, Paul McGrath, Roy Keane