Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate
soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.
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About 11 or 12 years ago, I met a Nottingham Forest supporter holidaying in
Australia. For me, a crazy Forest fan who was (at the time) yet to set foot
in the UK, this was quite a stroke of good fortune. Not only did this chap
politely offer to look after me if I ever visited Nottingham (he since has),
he gave me a collection of Forest fanzines.
Ahhh, fanzines. In the days before most of us had access to Internet and a
million different websites for any club vaguely better known than Cobh
Ramblers, fanzines provided the main access for fans to the views and
feelings of fellow supporters of a club.
In the 1990-1 season, a talented Irishman named Roy Keane made a big impact
on Forest and, not surprisingly, he was hailed by the fanzines. Still a
teenager, and bought for next to nothing, Keane became an instant hit with
the Forest faithful - one fanzine writer mentioned that Keane could close
down an opposition midfield even when he was "half fit". By the end of the
season, Keane was preferred to Steve Hodge - a Forest favourite and an
England international - for a place in the starting line up for the 1991 FA
It wouldn't have been a day to remember for the man the commentators loved
to refer to as "the 19 year old Irish lad". Forest lost and Keane let his
fiery temperament get the better of him in an unsavoury exchange with
Tottenham defender, Justin Edinburgh.
Fanzines are often also interested in gossip and what their heroes do off
the field as well as on it. I once read a story - which, I hasten to add,
might not be true - that Keane went to a Nottingham nightclub for over 21s
and was refused entry by the chap at the door. Keane then tried on a bit of
the "do you know who I am?" routine. The chap politely replied, "Yes. You're
Roy Keane. And you're 19 years old. You have to be at least 21 to get in
Over a decade later, I am more inclined to believe the nightclub story than
ever. More tragically, Keane does not appear to have matured much. His
universally condemned walkout on the Irish team is further evidence of a
player (and a person) filled with a most hideous kind of arrogance.
The Irish fans, which gave their team such tremendous support in Niigata,
probably feel the same way about their former hero. One of the first things
I heard them sing as their team kicked off against Cameroon was "You'll
Never Walk Alone". Sure, they might have sung that anyway but it might have
been their way of telling the boys that they were right behind them in the
wake of the Keane saga.
Unfortunately the first half didn't quite follow the script for the Irish
fans. I too was disappointed. I previewed the Irish team on this site and I
feel like quite a goose now that the preview sits there talking in glowing
terms of Roy Keane the player. The only thing that would mollify me now was
a strong Irish performance - a we-can-do-it-without-you job.
But, in the 39th minute, Cameroon went ahead with Patrick Mboma on the end
of an excellent move. It was a deserved lead. The "indomitable lions" had
easily been the better team in the first half. (And can I be the first to
say what a relief it is that they have been forced to wear sleeves! Please,
save those sleeveless shirts for the basketball court!)
Maybe Mick McCarthy used Roy Keane in his motivational talk at half time
rather than before the match. [By the way, does the fact that most observers
are on McCarthy's side tell you something? Roy Keane is a real Irishman -
not an Englishman or a Scot who qualified to play for the Republic because
his great grandparents once owned an Irish wolfhound. McCarthy is from
Yorkshire. He did qualify to play for Ireland through his family tree.]
Anyway, whatever McCarthy said in the dressing room worked - as did his
inspired substitution. Bringing Fulham's Steve Finnan on for the second half
paid instant dividends and the men in green started to look much better.
(The Cameroonians were in their away shirts in case you weren't watching.)
In the 52nd minute, just after Geremi had nearly put Cameroon 2-0 ahead,
Matt Holland, a player who might have been on the bench had Roy Keane been
playing, brought Ireland level with a goal that will probably not receive as
many plaudits as it deserves. From outside the box, the Ipswich man didn't
attempt to blast the cover off the ball. His precise strike went into the
bottom corner and it was hit no harder than it needed to be. Sure, we all
like the goals that burst the net but give credit to a player that places it
intelligently like that.
From there, Ireland looked the more likely winners though Cameroon did
occasionally threaten on the break. It was Ireland's second half just as it
had been Cameroon's first. Perhaps a draw was a fair result.
More pleasing still was Ireland's style of play. I wrote in my preview that
Ireland "doesn't need to reproduce the dour football of its World Cup
predecessors"; the Irish certainly didn't. The second half was arguably
Ireland's best ever 45 minutes at the finals of a World Cup. Do you think
the Cameroonians were rattled? Taking off their goal scorer midway through
the second half, and replacing him with a player that drops in deeper, was
surely a sign that they were panicking.
Millwall's Steven Reid - another substitute - nearly won it for Ireland with
a well hit free kick in the dying minutes but 1-1 was the final score.
Apologies to Cameroon and to the fans of the indomitable lions. I know this
brief match report has been mainly about Ireland and, no doubt, Peter
Goldstein will continue to expertly cover the African teams.
The day, however, really belonged to a group of players that pulled together
in the aftermath of an event that provided the biggest story in the weeks
leading up to the World Cup. Ireland may not have won; and the Irish may or
may not advance to the Second Round. But watching them interact with and
acknowledge their fans during the game, and celebrating their performance
with those fans afterwards, was the story. It was the perfect two fingered
salute to the brat that walked out on them.
It's enough to make you want to mockingly ask, Roy who?
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
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