Soccer Scene

Preview: Republic of Ireland - Portugal
World Cup Qualifier
02.06.2001 at 00:00 - Lansdowne Road

Eighteen months ago Ireland played brilliantly to beat Yugoslavia 2-1 at Lansdowne Road in a Euro 2000 qualifier. That was one of the best performances ever by an Irish side. Playing for high stakes against one of Europe's most potent teams, we will have to reproduce that kind of form this afternoon.

Unfortunately, there is reason to doubt whether we can play as well today as against the Yugoslavs. We have a limited numbers of players capable of influencing games at international level and news from the Irish camp this week suggests three of those men are blighted by injury.

Kenny Cunningham is out. He will be badly missed from an already fragile defence. Niall Quinn will start but the big man, so effective in partnership with Robbie Keane against the Yugoslavs, has struggled with a back injury for the past couple of months and can hardly be match fit.

Perhaps, most critically, Robbie Keane has been unable to train properly this week due to an ankle injury he's been carrying for several weeks.

For a squad short on quality, though long on the commitment required to turn over our Portuguese visitors, the absence of Cunningham and the prospect of diminished contributions from Quinn and Keane is likely to prove a fatal blow.

Mick McCarthy can be forgiven for cursing his luck. His team has consistently played above itself in this group with the magnificent Roy Keane leading from the front.

As a result, Ireland's fate is in our own hands as far as qualification for next year's World Cup Finals is concerned. Victory this afternoon and against Estonia on Wednesday would allow us the luxury of a home draw against Holland in September to secure automatic qualification.

And given the circumstances, that would be a hell of an achievement.

Nine months ago few would have imagined this Irish team would be so handsomely placed. When the fixture list for Group 2 was published with Ireland beginning the series with away games against Holland and Portugal, it seemed certain McCarthy would be jobless by last October.

Your correspondent was one of many who believed defeat was inevitable in those two opening games against formidable footballing nations, both of whom had featured prominently in that glorious festival of football Euro 2000.

If defeat was avoided in the first game against the Dutch - and it was hard to visualise how that would happen - then surely the Portuguese, who'd taken the world champions France to a golden goal lottery in the Euro 2000 semi-final, would put Ireland to sleep.

Mick McCarthy and his players proved such conventional wisdom wrong. And there was nothing flukey about the results obtained. Ireland played with great confidence and admirable conviction against the Dutch, or at least they did until taking a two goal lead.

Then the prospect of victory induced the kind of nervousness you might expect in a team unfamiliar with success. Holland saved a precious point, for Ireland it was two points squandered. Still, in retrospect, a commendable performance.

Having fallen a goal behind McCarthy and his team managed a draw against Portugal thanks to an inspired strike by Matt Holland. Chased and harassed by a spirited Irish team Portugal never found any rhythm or real sense of purpose. Luis Figo was a shadow of the player Real Madrid paid 37.5m for.

There is little doubt Portugal, and Holland, were carrying Euro 2000 hangovers when they faced us last autumn. Reaching the closing stages of that intense tournament had taken its emotional toll. Portugal were also missing three players, suspended for the affray that ensued after their semi-final defeat by France. This observation is not meant to diminish Ireland's achievement merely to place it in perspective.

The Portuguese are likely to prove more formidable opponents this afternoon. The nucleus of the side has been together for over a decade since they announced their arrival in the international game by winning the World Youth Cup in 1989 and again in 1991. They are undoubtedly brilliant on their day.

But there is a soft centre in there somewhere, for, Portugal have never really imposed themselves on the serious teams.

In fact this team has yet to qualify for the World Cup Finals.

To do so this time they must avoid defeat today. Yet this is not a team designed to dig out a draw.

Its strength lies in the deadly flair of Figo, Rui Costa and Joao Pinto which was, perhaps, most devastatingly displayed when Portugal came from two goals down to savage England during Euro 2000.

If this attacking machine is ignited at Lansdowne Road this afternoon Ireland will be in trouble. There is evidence - a two-nil victory over the Dutch in Amsterdam - that Figo and his colleagues have survived the trauma of Euro 2000.

If Portugal are defined by the brilliance of Luis Figo, the Irish possess their own awesome symbol: Roy Keane.

When they line up for the kick-off this afternoon the Portuguese will see one of the world's great footballing forces in a green shirt. Figo is Portugal's inspirational force, Keane Ireland's. Of course you can't reduce a game such as this to two men.

Yet Figo and Keane are the players their team mates will look to for leadership. For as much as that counts Ireland have the edge.

If that is not to be the decisive contest then Portugal are undoubtedly the more talented side.

Finally, it is worth noting if Ireland go on to secure automatic qualification it will be an outstanding achievement.

Indeed, if Ireland reach the 2002 World Cup Finals Mick McCarthy will have surpassed anything Jack Charlton achieved.


H / A / N Matches W D L Goals + / -
H 7 3 2 2 4 - 4 +0
A 6 0 1 5 4 - 16 -12
N 2 1 0 1 3 - 2 +1
Total 15 4 3 8 11 - 22 -11

Date&time Comp. H / A / N Final score
11.11.2021 at 19:45 World Cup Qualifier H 0 - 0
01.09.2021 at 19:45 World Cup Qualifier A 1 - 2
11.06.2014 at 15:00 Friendly A 1 - 5
09.02.2005 at 19:30 Friendly H 1 - 0
02.06.2001 at 00:00 World Cup Qualifier H 1 - 1
07.10.2000 at 21:00 World Cup Qualifier A 1 - 1
29.05.1996 at 00:00 Friendly H 0 - 1
15.11.1995 at 00:00 European Cup Qualifier A 0 - 3
26.04.1995 at 00:00 European Cup Qualifier H 1 - 0
07.06.1992 at 00:00 Tournament N 2 - 0
25.06.1972 at 00:00 Tournament N 1 - 2
22.05.1949 at 00:00 Friendly H 1 - 0
23.05.1948 at 00:00 Friendly A 0 - 2
04.05.1947 at 00:00 Friendly H 0 - 2
16.06.1946 at 00:00 Friendly A 1 - 3
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