Open Mic: 1990, Ireland's Greatest Year

Andrew BarrySenior Analyst IJune 16, 2008

The image above is etched into every Irish football fan's mind. With the penalties level at 4-4 between Ireland and Romania, Packie Bonner went to his right and saved Daniel Timofte's weak effort. O'Leary stepped up and Ireland were there.

Italia 90 is a tournament equally important in footballing stakes to both England and Ireland. The former went to the semis under Bobby Robson, and the latter shook world football by making the quarterfinals in their first ever appearance.

Jackie Charlton's side came into the qualifiers with an extremely difficult task to qualify, drawn with Spain, Hungary, and Northern Ireland.

Points were earned at Windsor Park and in Hungary by two 0-0 draws before a devastating 2-0 defeat to Spain in Seville.

Ireland moved into control with a famous 1-0 victory over the Spanish at Lansdowne, with the goal scored by Stapelton. Further, 2-0 wins over Malta and Hungary put them just two wins from Italy.

A narrow 1-0 win over Malta was followed by a passionate victory over our rivals Northern Ireland at Lansdowne. That meant we went to the World Cup for the first time ever!

England, Egypt, and Holland were the opponents drawn to face Ray Houghton and Co.

Sardinia was to be the venue of Ireland's first match against England, a revenge outing for the English after our sensational 1-0 win in 1988. Lineker put the enemy 1-0 up before Kevin Sheedy struck a low and true shot into the bottom right corner. 1-1.

By this stage, "Give It A Lash Jack" and "We're All Part Of Jackie's Army" were in full flow as the Irish invaded Sicily for the Egypt and Holland matches.

A boring 0-0 draw with Egypt drew criticism from Eamon Dunphy, and Charlton refused to talk to the controversial journalist.

Trailing by a goal to Holland with only minutes to go, a long ball was deflected to Niall Quinn, who nailed in the rebound to send us to the last 16. There we'd play Romania.

We laid siege to the Romanian goal, but after 120 minutes of failed efforts we went to a penalty shoot out. Four straight successful kicks later and Timofte stepped up. Bonner went to his right to hand match-point to David O'Leary.

The Arsenal man stepped up and slotted the ball past the Romanian keeper, and the lasting image is of the entire Irish squad mobbing O'Leary. We were going to the quarterfinals against none else but the hosts Italy.

The side received a blessing from John Paul II, but it wasn't enough as Schillaci notched a goal from Bonner's parry and Ireland couldn't force that equaliser. There was serious regret as we could have gone all the way that year.

However, the country celebrated long and hard, and the legend of Italia 90 lives on in Irish folklore.