Population: 3,800,000
Area: 70,280 km²
Capital: Dublin
Language: English

Ireland surprised most people by qualifying from a group containing both Holland and Portugal. The latter won the group, but Ireland took second place and beat Iran in the intercontinental play-off.
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Participations: (2) 1990 and 1994
Best placing: Quarterfinal 1990
Topscorers: Niall Queen, Kevin Sheedy, Ray Houghton, John Aldridge, 1 goal

Jun 01 - IRE v CMR  in Niigata
Jun 05 - IRE v GER  in Ibaraki
Jun 11 - IRE v KSA  in Yokohama

Roy Keane is the engine in the Irish team and arguably their most important single player. His fighting spirit, defensive workrate and leadership are important factors to Ireland's success lately. Don't be surprised if his name appears on the scoresheet as well in the World Cup.

WCA VERDICT: First round exit
Ireland impressed so much in the qualifiers eliminating Holland and they are of course capable of going through here as well. Our staff went back and forth regarding the Irish, but gut feeling told us to go against them.


by Paul Marcuccitti

    If you're the type of football fan who only tunes in when the big tournaments come around, the prospect of the Republic of Ireland taking its place at the World Cup finals might not fill you with joy. More likely, it might resurrect nightmares of dull, low scoring teams plotting an uninspiring path to the Second Round.

    The good news is that Ireland's 2002 challenge at least promises to be different. Coach Mick McCarthy has some exciting players in his squad and, in Roy Keane, he has a leader and midfield conductor that bears genuine comparison with the world's finest.

    The Irish were not given much chance when the qualifying groups were drawn. With two Euro 2000 semi-finalists - Portugal and the Netherlands - for company, surely they didn't have a hope?

    But they signalled their intentions immediately by taking a 2-0 lead in their opening qualifier in Amsterdam before the Dutch recovered to gain a draw. As if to prove that was no fluke, Ireland then drew in Portugal. After completing their two toughest away matches, the Irish took maximum points from their next four games (against the group's minnows) and then held Portugal again at Lansdowne Road. By the time Ireland hosted the Dutch, it was the visitors that needed a clear win to stay alive. Instead Ireland was victorious, 1-0, and that ensured a top two finish. The Irish were tipped out of first place (by Portugal) on goal difference but a 2-1 aggregate victory in a play-off against Iran ensured them of a place in the final 32.

    If Ireland has a weakness at Korea/Japan, it may be in the goal scoring department. Much will depend on gifted Leeds youngster Robbie Keane who's sure to be a marked man in the Far East. Supporting him in attack could well be 35 year old Niall Quinn. The imposing Quinn is an evergreen type but it's hard to imagine that he might be this year's Roger Milla.

    Nevertheless, the Irish shared the goals around in the qualifying matches and their depth of quality midfielders, combined with a couple of defenders who can threaten up forward, might compensate for any shortcomings on the front line.

    McCarthy has plenty of options with which to fill the midfield places around Roy Keane. At his disposal are Sunderland pair Kevin Kilbane and Jason McAteer; Matt Holland, such an important player at Ipswich; the hard working Mark Kinsella - also in the Premiership with Charlton; and Blackburn's Damien Duff might figure as well.

    In goalkeeper Shay Given, Ireland has a reliable custodian and the defence - where veteran Steve Staunton will be joined by Leeds full-backs Gary Kelly and Ian Harte - is also capable. Fulham's Steve Finnan may also be in with a chance of breaking into the starting team.

    Harte is perhaps more noted for his attacking skills, particularly from dead ball situations, and he will be the most likely free kick taker when there's any chance of a shot for goal.

    The strong performance in the qualifiers has not stopped Mick McCarthy from trying a few younger players in the national team and he is justifiably confident that Ireland can exceed expectations again. For that to happen, the Irish will need to find a way through Group E where they are drawn against Cameroon, Germany and Saudi Arabia. Qualification for the Second Round would pit Ireland against a Group B team (Spain/Slovenia/Paraguay/South Africa).

    Germany and Cameroon will both be difficult opponents but Ireland certainly has the ability to finish ahead of at least one of them. If they play well enough, the Irish even have realistic hopes of making it to the quarter-finals. After such a strong qualifying performance, they would certainly be disappointed if they failed to reach the knockout phase.

    One thing's for sure - football fans can be optimistic that, with some talented players in its squad, this Ireland team doesn't need to reproduce the dour football of its World Cup predecessors.


by Jan Alsos

    Ireland have qualified for the World Cup twice and been involved in the tighest first round group on both occasions. First, in 1990 where Jackie Charlton’s men drew all their three games against England, Holland and Egypt. It was enough to get them through to the second round where a fourth consecutive draw was achieved against Romania. Penalties sent Ireland through to a quarterfinal against host nation Italy, but Toto Schillaci was in unstoppable form and scored the only goal of the game.

    Second, in USA four years later where all teams - Italy, Mexico, Norway and Ireland - had identical points and goaldifference. Ireland squeezed through on more goals scored than Norway. Ray Houghton secured a famous win for the Irish against Italy with a wicked shot, but then Ireland lost to Mexico before drawing 0-0 with Norway in the final match. Holland awaited in the second round and Ireland lost quite predictably 2-0.




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