LISTEN – Episode 9, Ireland vs Spain, World Cup 2002:

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Intro theme by The Shaker Hymn.


When the next World Cup comes along, it will have been twenty years since Ireland last appeared at the tournament.

More time will have passed between our jaunt in Korea & Japan and Qatar 2022, than between Italia ’90 and 2002. The more you think about it, the worse the reality gets. It is an absolute age to have not competed at a World Cup.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Ireland’s last game in the competition, a penalty shootout loss to Spain, has become one of the most reminisced upon games in Irish sporting history.

ireland vs spain

It might seem somewhat glib to speak of it in those terms. After all, a defeat is a defeat. But much like the quarter-final loss to hosts Italy three decades ago, Ireland’s final game at the 2002 edition was the side’s best performance of the tournament.

The void, that absence of similar moments on the world stage, and the wider it becomes, the more importance we attach to it.

We recall the moments, the big chances, Duffer’s stellar performance on the right wing, the elation of Robbie Keane getting us to extra time, the penalties – those scored and, regrettably, those missed. But most of all, we remember the tears. The ones shed by the players, but mainly the ones shed by us, the fans.

ireland vs spain

It had been a rollercoaster of a month for Irish supporters, between the seismic activity of Saipan and the opener against Cameroon, Keane’s last minute equaliser and the rout of Saudi Arabia, so much had happened. We — all of us, fans, players, staff — were tired and emotional by that stage.

But we didn’t want it to end.

Anything but that.

Then Gaizka Mendieta showed up. He didn’t even start, but then again it’s all about where you finish. And he finished with the ball, slowly bobbling over Shay Given’s outstretched leg, passing him by centimetres. “By fuck all” as he puts himself.

Shite.

ireland vs spain
16 June 2002; Gaizka Mendieta, Spain, puts his penalty past Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given to win the penalty shoot out. FIFA World Cup Finals, 2nd Round, Republic of Ireland v Spain, Suwon World cup stadium, Suwon, Korea. Soccer. Cup2002. Picture credit; David Maher / SPORTSFILE *EDI*

The collective regret has been enormous ever since. What could have been? A quarter-final with South Korea. And then what? A possible semi-final with Germany? Sure we already knew they were no great shakes.

It hurts to think about those possibilities, even still. Because we haven’t been able to fill that void. 16 years and no World Cup. Germany, South Africa, Brazil, Russia. They all got on grand without us. Ouch.

Sure we had Euro 2016, and we’ll always have it. The night Robbie Brady put that that ball beyond the Italy keeper with that beautiful mallet head of his. The emotion on that night was incredible, a few tears were shed on that occasion alright.

But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the World Cup.

The longer the wait goes on, the more you wonder “will it ever happen again?”

Oh, what I’d give to cry like that again.


Absolute must-watch; Japanese highlights of Ireland vs Spain, great quality too. The commentators get very excitable at times:

Highlights of the game, featuring commentary from Ian Darke, which i didn’t know existed until now:

RTE’s incredible montage from the 2002 World Cup. We dare to watch this and not well up with emotion. Go on:

The BBC highlights of Spain vs Ireland, 16 minutes long and with Barry Davies commentary. Oddly, this video doesn’t include the Morientes goal:

 

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