Wembley stadium in London is the venue for tonight’s soccer international between England and the Republic of Ireland. An interesting game for a number of reasons, mainly because it has been 18 years since these near neighbours have met. The last occasion was at the old Lansdowne Road stadium in Dublin in Fenruary 1995. With Ireland leading 1-0 the match had to be abandoned after 27 minutes as a section of the English fans in an upper stand began a riot, throwing seats, bars and other missiles down onto the Irish fans, Gardaí and stewards beneath them.
But as RTÉ sport recalled, in the years preceding those appalling scenes, the Boys in Green and the Three Lions had become familiar foes, playing out a series of intriguing competitive games between 1988 and 1991. I was in Germany for Euro 88 when in the golden era for Irish soccer for nine years under Jack Charlton, Ray Houghton’s early header decided the opening game for Ireland against the old enemy in Stuttgart. In the Euro 92 qualifiers the sides were again facing each other. Although England took the lead in both games, Tony Cascarino (Aston Villa) headed in a late equaliser in Dublin, while Niall Quinn levelled in Wembley, a match Ireland should have won.
Just like their rugby counterparts, this game means more for the Ireland players than it does for England, where most players get a regular taste of Champions League, World Cup and European Championship action. Kyle Walker, Tom Cleverly and Andy Carroll all dropped out, while Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Darren O’Dea and Aiden McGeady have all travelled considerable distances for the chance to step out at the famous stadium.
HALF TIME: ENGLAND 1 REPUBLIC of IRELAND 1
Ireland got off to a good start and took the home side by surprise by going ahead after twelve minutes. A beautiful header from West Bromwich Albion striker Shane Long inspired Trapattoni’s men. But their lead lasted for only ten minutes as Chelsea’s Frank Lampard scored the equaliser. Although both teams had their chances in the second half, there was no change in the score and at the end of the day a draw seemed the fairest result. The green army went away in happy mood singing “you’ll never beat the Irish!” Hopefully the game will have given Trapattoni the opportunity to consider his options for the next friendly at home to Georgia on Sunday then back once more on the World Cup 2014 qualifying trail with a home game against the Faroe Islands on Friday 7th June.