THE whole country seemed to be put through the wringer after watching one of the most intense games in our history as Ireland qualified for the last 16 of Italia 90.
It was the concluding match in World Cup Group F which had all four teams, England v Egypt was the other tie, with identical records before kick-off.
The format was six groups of four with the top two in each certain of qualification along with four of the best third-placed nations.
It was ordained to be a long and fretful night as thousands of Irish fans in the capacity 33,288 attendance in Palermo witnessed a compelling contest.
To be certain of advancing, Ireland had to either win, or draw at worst, though defeat could still have kept the door open, but vulnerable to the vagaries of drawing lots, which nobody wanted.
And Ireland couldn’t have made a worse start as the European champions illustrated why they were the Continent’s finest with an exquisite goal after only 10 minutes.
Ronald Koeman’s quickly taken free was snapped up by Wim Kieft, a right thorn in Ireland’s side from Euro 88 in West Germany. He linked smartly with Ruud Gullit, who ghosted in behind Steve Staunton and Kevin Moran before firing past Bonner to far corner of the net. Paul McGrath’s tackle was in vain.
That set the tone for most of the game as Ireland went after an equaliser, hounding the Dutch at every opportunity, but the goal still didn’t appear to be materialising.
Worse still, Mark Wright, of all players, put England in front with his first goal after 58 minutes against the Egyptians, who were battling Ireland for third spot now.
The tension grew palpably as Ireland huffed and puffed but couldn’t generate a chance of testing keeper Hans van Breukelen.
Then just after the 70th minute mark, the whole complexion changed as Ireland poached a leveller with a trademark goal. There was nothing pretty about it, Bonner launching one of his missiles high into the Sicilian night, but it caused the Dutch all sorts of problems.
Under pressure from substitute Tony Cascarino, defender Van Aerle miskicked his attempted clearance, but there was still scope for Van Breukelen to tidy up.
He, though, couldn’t control the ball, diving to his left, and Niall Quinn extended his long right leg to hook it off Van Breukelen’s body high into the net. Cue delirium.
The gangling striker only found out he was in the starting 11 just after lunchtime in the only change from the goalless draw with Egypt.
“I scored a few goals like that, but none were as important as this one,” Quinn said.
“I knew I had a chance to score once the ball broke and I did not want to miss. I said ‘don’t mess it up’.”
The sides played keep-ball in the remaining time despite French referee Michel Vautrot calling both captains aside.
“He told us to play football,” said Mick McCarthy. “I told him it was our first time playing football in the whole tournament.”
That’s the way the section finished, England the winners, and Ireland and Holland level in joint second. It went to a lottery to determine second and third, Ireland drawing the long straw to play Romania.
Holland got the Germans. Scotland and Austria prepared to go home.
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