Republic of Ireland's 10 Greatest Moments
Debuting in the 1924 Summer Olympics, the Republic of Ireland national team has given us some of the greatest moments in international soccer.
From being the first non-UK team to beat England at home to knocking Romania out of the 1990 FIFA World Cup on penalty kicks, The Boys In Green are regularly giving fans back home a reason to believe.
In recent years, Ireland has walked the line between the first and second-tier European clubs—losing out on a trip to last summer's World Cup due to a blatant handball by France's Thierry Henry, but then a year later dominating a woefully overrated Estonia side and qualifying for next summer's Euro 2012 Finals.
Join me as I take a look back at what I believe to be the ten greatest moments in the history of international soccer for the Emerald Isle.
Winning Against Bulgaria in First Ever Match at 1924 Summer Olympics
In what would be their first match, the Irish Free State (predecessor to the Republic of Ireland) entered the 1924 Summer Olympics in France and defeated Bulgaria 1-0.
The goal was scored by Paddy Duncan, a player who went on to have an illustrious career with the Irish national team—he scored one more goal and played in three more matches.
The win over Bulgaria helped the Irish Free State advance past the group stage of the 1924 Olympics, losing 2-1 just days later to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.
Becoming First Non-UK Team to Beat England in England
In 1949, England and the Republic of Ireland sought to play an international friendly in preparation of the upcoming World Cup.
The game was played at Goodison Park in Liverpool, the current home of Premier League team Everton. At this point, England was one of the best teams in the world and had not been challenged by someone outside of the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).
But pride comes before the fall, right?
The Irish defenders were in rare form, stopping wave after wave of English attacks. Con Martin converted a penalty kick in the 33rd minute and Peter Farrell—who played on Everton's team—scored in the 85th minute on his own field.
It was the first time that England had been defeated by a non-UK side in its history and became the best reason for Irish neighbors to buy each other a pint and celebrate (as if they needed another one).
Racking Up the Goals in 1983 Euro Qualifier Against Malta
Forgive the foreign commentator, but I just had to put up this video. It's the Republic of Ireland's most lopsided win in history—an 8-0 drubbing of Malta in a qualifier for the Euro 1984 Finals.
Hiring Former England Manager Jack Charlton
Before hiring Jack Charlton in 1986, the Republic of Ireland went through an era of national football that many on the Emerald Isle refer to as "The Dark Ages".
As hard as it is to believe, that may be a bit of an understatement.
From 1930-1986, the Irish national team didn't qualify for a single FIFA World Cup or UEFA Euro Finals, with losing records in the qualification stages of both tournaments.
Then, after a disastrous campaign to qualify for the 1986 World Cup, in which they only scored five goals in eight matches, Charlton was brought on board. The former Newcastle United manager was received warmly by fans and made changes that helped the Irish qualify for two UEFA Euro Finals and a World Cup.
Charlton laid the foundation for the success Ireland is enjoying today and his hiring is one of the greatest moments in Irish soccer history.
This clip is a montage of his squad's journey through the 1990 World Cup, set to the music of his unofficial theme song "Put 'Em Under Pressure (We're All Part of Jackie's Army)".
Gaining Confidence Against Brazil in 1987
In the late 1980's, the Republic of Ireland were coming out of their "Dark Ages" and had little confidence in their ability to beat the big boys of Europe. The Germans, Russians and Dutch were just too powerful for The Boys In Green up to this point.
But in 1987, Irish midfielder Liam Brady scored against South American powerhouse Brazil in a friendly and gave the Emerald Isle the boost they needed to reach new heights and earn a spot in their first UEFA Euro Finals.
Even though it was an exhibition, it was just what the doctor ordered. They went to the Euro 1988 Finals, tore England apart and just fell short of the semifinals.
Interesting note: Ireland is still the only Celtic side (Ireland, Scotland and Wales) to have beaten Brazil.
Defeating England in Euro 1988 Finals
No one gave the Republic of Ireland a shot to advance past the group stage in the 1988 Euro Finals, especially after seeing that they'd drawn England as their first opponent.
But that's why they call it The Beautiful Game—anything can happen.
As we'll see in this clip, Irish forward Ray Houghton turns the entire game on its head by scoring the game's opening goal (and only goal, mind you) just six minutes into the match. The 1-0 win over England is the only time Ireland has won at the UEFA Euro Finals, but if it's got to be against anyone, best against the Brits, right?
Beating Romania on Penalty Kicks at 1990 World Cup
It's the farthest the Republic of Ireland's ever gotten in a World Cup and it was accomplished in typical Irish fashion—physical play from a superb back line and with everyone's hearts thumping out of their chests.
Here's a nice recap of the game that prompted the Vatican to give the Irish national team an audience with His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
Rallying Against Germany in 2002 World Cup
It was only the third World Cup that the Republic of Ireland had qualified for in its history, but their group match against heavily favored Germany was one of the highlights of the entire tournament.
Germany's Miroslav Klose scored in the 19th minute, putting his country ahead 1-0 early in the match. But a rock solid back line kept the Germans at bay the rest of the match.
Then, in the second minute of stoppage time after the 90 minutes had run up, Robbie Keane scored in spectacular fashion to salvage a point from the Germans and keep Ireland alive in the tournament.
Watching France's Implosion at 2010 World Cup
After Thierry Henry "handed" the Republic of Ireland their ticket home from the 2010 World Cup, there was nothing sweeter than watching France literally implode upon itself in South Africa.
Nicolas Anelka was sent home, the players boycotted training sessions and manager Raymond Domenech had to read a statement saying why the players were rebelling against their coaching staff.
Sure, it would have been great to see Ireland defeat France in the playoffs that year, but seeing France defeat themselves was second-best.
Qualifying for Euro 2012 Finals at Aviva Stadium
UEFA Euro Championship is held every four years and can best be described as a World Cup for the European continent. There have been 11 UEFA Euro Finals since the tournament's inception in 1960 and the Republic of Ireland had only qualified for one of them—Euro 1988 in West Germany.
Last week changed all that.
In a two-legged playoff, Ireland dominated an undisciplined Estonia side 4-0 in Estonia and then captured a spot in Euro 2012 with a 1-1 draw.
What made it so special, however, is that it was the first time the Irish squad qualified for a major tournament on home soil.
The Football Association of Ireland captured it perfectly on their Twitter account, saying:
Over the moon here. Delighted for the players, fans, staff and everyone who cares about football in Ireland. We've one great summer ahead.
This video captures the scene perfectly—dozens of elated Irish fans celebrating the win surrounding an Estonian fan with a bruised ego.