Top six British Play-Off Heartaches
With Ireland facing off against Bosnia this weekend, many fans can't help but notice that the Emerald Isle has only ever managed two wins over the course of their seven playoff encounters for major tournament qualification. In fact, no team has taking part in more European Championship playoff games than Ireland and Bosnia will prove to be one of their toughest tests to date.
The biggest European Championships ever will take place in France next summer with 24 teams participating rather than the usual 16. Despite the increased odds of qualification by sheer numeracy, Ireland narrowly missed out on the final day of qualifying in an all-or-nothing game with Poland, who finished second to Germany. Had the Republic found themselves in England or Northern Ireland's group, they would have almost certainly already have been looking at hotels in France next summer - but that's the luck of the draw. Not, the luck of the Irish of course!
Ireland now face a Bosnia side that finished third in their group behind Belgium and Wales. Edin Dzeko and co. took four points off the Welsh, but ultimately a home defeat to Cyprus and and a comprehensive loss to Israel ensured they came up short. But still, what chance do Martin O'Neill's Ireland have of advancing past the FIFA ranked 20th best side in the world? Let's see what history thinks.
6. Ireland V Belgium - World Cup 1998
Just a couple of years after Holland dashed their Euro '96 dreams, neighbours Belgium delivered successive major tournament heartache. New Ireland boss Mick McCarthy hadn't set the world alight in his first campaign and the Irish finished a full 10 points behind a Gheorghe Hagi inspired Romania in their qualifying group. Ireland would draw the first leg 1-1 at Lansdowne Road, despite taking the lead through a Dennis Irwin free-kick in the eighth minute. A Roy Keane-less Ireland however fell pray to Belgium's superior midfield and Luc Nilis grabbed an equaliser 20 minutes later ensuring the game finished 1-1, with Belgium collecting the all-important away goal.
The second-leg in Brussells was a game that the Irish absolutely knew they had to score in, so when Luis Oliviera (actually born in Brazil) found the net after 25 minutes, that didn't change much for Ireland. Long-serving Ray Houghton would get the all-important goal on 58 minutes, but Ireland only enjoyed parity for 10 minutes before that man Nilis struck once more, and this time it was decisive.
5. Ireland V Holland - Euro 1996
As mentioned earlier, prior to the Belgium reverse Ireland suffered defeat in a one-off playoff with Holland at a neutral venue, which on this occasion was Liverpool's Anfield. The reason this was so hard to swallow for Ireland was they had to face a young, vibrant Dutch side without Roy Keane (again), Niall Quinn and Steve Staunton - arguably their three best players.
Holland had a team featuring Edwin Van Der Sar, Dennis Bergkamp, Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars, Clarence Seedorf, Ronald de Boer and Patrick Kluivert. If you know anything about football, you know that is a ridiculously formidable team. Ireland on the other hand were an ageing unit and it was to be a swan-song for the likes of Paul McGrath, John Sheridan and John Aldridge. Two Kluivert goals put the contest to bed, and the Irish were never truly in the game.
4. Ireland V Turkey - Euro 2000
Ahhh, another Irish heartache! Ireland's third playoff heart breaker in a row came against a difficult Turkey side who only scraped past the them thanks to an away goal. That goal, was a controversial penalty given against Lee Carsley for handball which to this day, remains a harsh decision. Ireland had a new sensation at this point in Robbie Keane, and he scored in the 79th minute of the first leg to give the Irish something to protect in Istanbul. However, it wasn't to be as Tayfur Havutçu would score the Turks penalty a mere four minutes later.
In the second leg - as you can guess by the away goals give-away in the first paragraph - the two teams played out a stalemate. Ireland had begun to enjoy a new generation of players though with Roy Keane featuring in both legs alongside one of Europe's hottest strikers in Robbie Keane and the exciting Damien Duff. In truth, Turkey could have put the game to bed were it not for Dean Kiely's heroics, but there's always that thought of what might have been had they not conceded that penalty...
3. Wales V Russia - Euro 2004
Wales had not qualified for a major tournament in 46 years when they had the chance to face Russia over two legs for a place at Euro 2004 in Portugal. This was their best chance in a long, long time and possibly the last chance a sensational Premier League player like Ryan Giggs would ever get. Under Mark Hughes, Wales had a core of Giggs, John Hartson, Gary Speed, Robbie Savage and Jason Koumas which meshed better than expected. After a 0-0 draw in Moscow in the first leg - where Giggs tore the Russian right-back to shreds - many figured Wales were the favourites to secure their place in front of over 73,000 Welshmen in the second leg.
In the end, it was a Russian set-piece that would be the undoing of two years hard, Welsh work. Rolan Gusev's perfect delivery was met by Vadim Evseev and that's all it took to confine the Welsh to another summer at home. Luckily, they've banished those memories by securing automatic qualification this time around, thus ending a 58-year wait for a major finals appearance.
2. England V Scotland - Euro 2000
This was a real and proper 'Battle of Britain' where only one could advance to Euro 2000, and only one nation would reign supremely over the other in their hearts for years to come. England raced into a 2-0 aggregate lead, defeating Scotland at Hampden Park and taking a serious advantage back to Wembley for the second leg. Paul Scholes did the damage for England with a first-half brace and the Three Lions sat sat back after taking their lead, encouraging the Scots to come at them and test a defence boasting Sol Campbell, Tony Adams and Martin Keown.
However, Scotland would head to Wembley defiant and they managed to win the second leg 1-0, coming desperately close on several occasions to extended their lead and knocking England out. David Seaman was particularly inspirational, saving a point-blank header from Christian Daily in the final 10 minutes. But it was Kevin Keegan's men - with Jamie Redknapp at left-mid for some reason - who would advance to France and retain national bragging rights, even though Scotland could be proud of their resolve and display in the second leg.
1. Ireland V France - World Cup 2010
This is not just a British heartache, this was a football tragedy. Arguably, if not undoubtedly, the most controversial finish to a playoff match between any teams in any playoff scenario in football. Thierry Henry - beloved by many as an Arsenal and Premier League great - intentionally handled the ball clear as day before squaring for William Gallas to score in extra-time to knock Ireland out 2-1 on aggregate.
Ireland had done magnificently to get to the position they were in. After losing the first leg 1-0 thanks to a Nicholas Anelka goal in front of 74,000 people at Croke Park, Ireland defeated France in the same stadium they won the 1998 World Cup in thanks to a Robbie Keane goal in the 33rd minute. But that only levelled the affair overall, and a tense extra-time would ensure where Ireland gave as good as they got against a nation perceived to be far superior.
However, Gallas would strike in the 104th minute to dash Irish hearts everywhere and create one of the greatest injustices in the history of football. It has emerged since that FIFA paid the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) five million euros (£3.6m) to stop them taking legal action over the controversy. Had Henry been from the UK and it sent one of the home nations through, maybe things would be seen a little differently. But, as it is, it's the greatest playoff heartache ever.
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